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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE

BRIAN KLAAS

The Despot’s Accomplice


How the West is Aiding and Abetting
the Decline of Democracy

A
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Brian Klaas.
The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting
the Decline of Democracy.
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CONTENTS

Acknowledgements and Apologies vii


Introduction: Accessory to Authoritarianism 1
╇ 1.╇A Concise Biography of Democracy 21
╇2.╇Spooking Democracy 37
╇3.╇Tunnel Vision 51
╇ 4.╇The “Savage Wars of Peace” 69
╇ 5.╇The Curse of Low Expectations 81
╇ 6.╇Backing the Wrong Horse 97
╇7.╇Golden Handcuffs 111
╇ 8.╇The Unthinkable Olive Branch 123
╇9.╇Fool’s Errands 135
10.╇The Carrot 147
11.╇The New Battleground 161
12.╇City on a Swamp 177
13.╇The Bear & the Dragon 191
Conclusion: The Resurgence of Democracy 213
Notes 227
Index 257

v
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND APOLOGIES

Since 2012, I have conducted roughly 250 interviews trying to under-


stand the battle for global democracy. The list includes former prime
ministers and presidents, diplomats, MPs, journalists, ex-rebels, gener-
als, coup plotters, democracy promoters, election observers, academ-
ics, political analysts, economists, and torture victims. Many of them
spoke to me candidly at great personal risk to their safety and wellbe-
ing. I admire some of them more than others, but to everyone who
spoke to me during my research over the last four years, thank you for
taking the time, opening your homes, and helping me understand your
point of view. I didn’t always agree with you, but I did earnestly try to
understand you. To the committed democrats I spoke to, I hope that
this book catalyzes more support for you in the West. To the despots I
spoke to, I’m sorry.
â•… This book is dedicated to my parents, Paul and Barbara Klaas.
“Couldn’t you study French history in Paris or something?” they often
asked, as I set off for war-torn, destabilized countries around the
world. But in spite of their (understandable) worries, they have been
unwaveringly supportive and selfless. Long ago, they gave me the best
and simplest advice I’ve ever received as I pondered career paths: “Do
something interesting with your life.” Mom and Dad, I can never thank
you enough. Parenting books should be written about you. For all the
stories in here that I’ve never told you in the hopes that you’d worry
less, I’m sorry.
â•… Ann, James, and Kelsey Klaas inspired me. When I returned home
after witnessing the depressingly cynical ploys of despots, Ann taught me

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND APOLOGIES
the power of strength through adversity, and James, Kelsey, and particu-
larly their young son Thomas, taught me that there is never reason to lose
hope. I’m only sorry I don’t get to see you as often as I’d like.
â•… Marcel Dirsus and David Landry provided excellent feedback. They
also promised to call the embassy if I took too long to respond to mes-
sages when I was looking over my shoulder in Belarus or was navigating
other worrisome situations, and they made me laugh when I needed it.
You guys are fantastic friends. Sorry I asked your opinion about a spe-
cific argument, anecdote, or idea every day for months and expected
an immediate reply.
â•… Roy Grow, who lost a battle with cancer in 2013, advised me as an
undergraduate. With his wife Mary Lewis, Roy never stopped urging
me to understand the world by exploring it myself, to take calculated
risks, and to keep an open mind to alternative views. I’m sorry we
didn’t get nearly enough time together before you left us.
â•… Nic Cheeseman, my DPhil adviser at Oxford, made this book pos-
sible by shaping me into a scholar and believing in me when I was a
wide-eyed student. Sorry about all the insurance and health and safety
forms you had to fill out.
â•… Thanks are also due to many, many other people who helped me
with writing, research, and support: to Gemma Clucas, John James,
Oliver Clarke, Edward Grigg, Oz Jungic, Jason Pack, Andy Cunningham,
Hanan Haber, Joseph Baines, Rory McCarthy, Michael Willis, Juvence
Ramasy, Nika Wegosky, Verapat Pariyawong, Jack Delehanty, Howard
French, Sishuwa wa Sishuwa, Nancy Bermeo, Ben Ansell, Elliott
Green, and literally hundreds of taxi drivers who shared their thoughts
on local politics with me as we sat in traffic.
â•… Finally, I couldn’t have written this book without Ellie, my better
half and my best friend. Ellie listened to every awful first draft of each
chapter eagerly and patiently. She managed to always offer encourage-
ment even as she (rightfully) told me when I was wrong. Ellie, I love
you. Sorry in advance for the shock when you finally realize, as I’ve
known all along, that you’re clearly out of my league.

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INTRODUCTION
ACCESSORY TO AUTHORITARIANISM

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the world is losing
faith in democracy. Between Donald Trump’s rise in American politics
and the predictable but self-inflicted “Brexit” economic shockwave,
many are now openly asking what was previously an unthinkable ques-
tion in the West: can people really be trusted with self-government? Is
it time to ditch democracy and try something else?
â•… After the Soviet Union fell, democracy expanded at an unprece-
dented rate. Today, global democracy has receded slightly every year
since 2006; in other words, there has been no democratic forward
progress for the last decade.1
â•… At the other end of the spectrum, powerful authoritarian regimes
are becoming more authoritarian.2 Across multiple indexes and mea-
sures, democracy is stagnating at best and steadily declining at worst.
Unless the trend is reversed, anyone born in 2016 will be, on average,
less free than someone born during the 1990s. These declines are not
an accident; they are the battle scars of a struggle between the rule of
the people and the rule of despots and dictators. Right now, the people
are losing.
â•… However, the sky is not falling, democratically speaking. The world
remains more democratic than it has been at almost any time in human
history. Many countries that were bastions of authoritarian repression
just a few decades ago are now democracies. Nonetheless, the recent
retreat of democracy is serious cause for concern. This is not a theoreti-

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
cal philosophical debate. Billions of people remain trapped in unrespon-
sive, unaccountable regimes where ruthless oppression is common.
â•… As many despots have rolled back democracy or refused to embrace
it, they have found an unlikely accomplice: the West. Western govern-
ments, in London, Paris, Brussels, and most of all Washington, have
directly and indirectly aided and abetted the decline of democracy
around the globe. This unfortunate truth comes despite the stated
goals of all Western governments and despite the personal principles
of almost everyone in those governments. Overwhelmingly, Western
elites genuinely believe in democracy. They want democracy to
spread. Moreover, Western governments have been, are, and will con-
tinue to be the biggest force backing democracy in the world. But
their current approach is backfiring. This book explains why and gives
a principled blueprint for how to reverse the trend and start defeating
despots worldwide.
â•… For the moment, though, the West is suffering an acute case of
democracy promotion fatigue. Its leaders have less of a stomach for
the short-term risks it presents than they used to. This feeling has
only intensified in recent years as prolonged debacles in Ukraine, the
Arab Spring, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq have replaced stable autho�
ritarian regimes with violent chaos. As a result, democracy promo-
tion has been knocked down several rungs on the priority list of
Western governments as they set foreign policy agendas. It’s per-
fectly understandable. After all, failed transitions to democracy in
places like Libya after botched interventions are indeed tragedies.Yet
it would be a greater tragedy still to doom the next generation to the
rule of despots, dictators, and thugs, simply because this generation
of political leaders is unwilling to make smart but difficult choices to
support democracy consistently across the globe. Instead of running
away from the challenge, Western governments need to learn from
their mistakes and redouble their efforts. They need to stick to their
principles and challenge despots, rather than aiding them in pursuit
of nearsighted pragmatism. This will not be easy; there are few low-
hanging authoritarian fruits just waiting to be plucked. Nor is there
any guarantee that toppled despots will be replaced by genuine
democrats. But the current approach needs to change, in order to
give democracy a fighting chance.

2
INTRODUCTION
â•… I discovered a strange cast of characters on the frontlines of this battle
for global democracy. Their voices are important but are rarely heard in
the West. So, over the last five years, I have crisscrossed the world explor-
ing local struggles for democracy to understand why the world is becom-
ing less democratic and what can be done to reverse the trend.
â•… I lived for months at a time in many different countries. Some seemed
superficially democratic but were nonetheless home to toxic politics and
broken societies. Dictators or juntas governed others. I had poetry read
to me by a general in Madagascar who spoke of the glory days when he
kidnapped politicians. I sipped mango juice with ex-rebels and was
robbed at machete point in post-conflict Côte d’Ivoire. I was tailed by the
KGB in Belarus as I spoke to presidential candidates bravely challenging
Europe’s last dictator. I had tea with a failed coup plotter’s family in
Zambia and coffee with generals in Thailand’s junta café.
â•… These were surreal experiences. But the crisis of democracy in the
twenty-first century is all too real for the billions of people around the
world who live either under the unforgiving yoke of a dictator or the
illusion of freedom in what I call “counterfeit democracies”—countries
that claim to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, but
are really none of the above.3
â•… A minority of the global population lives in true democracies, where
people can meaningfully participate in decisions being made about their
lives, where the laws matter more than the whims of strongmen, and
where citizens have a real choice in electing leaders to represent them.
â•… The true criminals in this heist against democracy are dictators and
counterfeit democrats—the dictatorial wolves cloaked in democratic
sheepskins. But the West is also an accessory to the crime, inadver-
tently robbing pro-democracy forces abroad of a path to power.
Governments in Washington, London, and Brussels pick the side of the
despot all too often, as they chase pyrrhic short-term economic and
security victories. This approach undermines long-term Western inter-
ests, batters global democracy, and keeps billions oppressed with little
hope for better governments.
â•… If the West is doing so much damage, should Western governments
even try to make the world more democratic? If so, how? After all,
domestic factors are critical to democratization. Perhaps it’s none of
our business. Countries often democratize without a nudge from the

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
outside. Moreover, many key barriers to democratization are difficult
to remove or overcome: dynastic oil monarchies, poor countries with
weak political institutions, and single-party states that manage strong
economic performance are all less likely to democratize. But scholars
have also shown that links to the West are a crucial aspect of democra-
tization across all types of countries.6
â•… How, then, can Western governments maximize the probability that
a given country will become genuinely democratic?
â•… There are three overarching camps that capture most thinking related
to Western democracy promotion. First, do nothing. Don’t worry about
democracy elsewhere. Treat a country the same regardless of its political
system. This is the approach that authoritarian China takes, but this
amoral foreign policy has vocal backers in the West too. Proponents of
this view tend to see the spread of democracy as a peripheral interest to
the West, a distraction from what really matters—security, stability, and
economic growth. Foreign policy, in this view, is about entrenching sta-
bility while serving ourselves—wrought by the cold, hard calculations of
realpolitik. Out of necessity, those calculations often focus on short-term
interests. Do whatever needs to be done; work with whoever will work
with you; the ends justify the means.
â•… The second camp has slightly more tolerance for democracy promo-
tion. Try to promote democracy, but only when it is in the short-term
geostrategic interest of Western governments. Push for democracy
against unfriendly dictators who already hate the West, but leave
friendly dictators alone—or at least don’t press them aggressively. In
this view, the dictatorial devil we know is much better than the demo-
cratic devil we don’t. Encourage countries that are not strategically
important to become democratic because it doesn’t really matter any-
way, but set an absurdly low bar so that most can at least hit the mostly
meaningless target of claiming to be democracies and the West can
cheer them along. This is the current approach. It is failing.
â•… Third, promote democracy across the globe, as a long-term goal,
even when it may not be in the immediate short-term interest of the
United States and its Western allies. Think long-term. This does not
mean pouring millions or billions into quixotic projects to rapidly
democratize places unlikely to change, like North Korea. It also does
not mean that the West should pursue any other foolish wars cloaked

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INTRODUCTION
as adventures in democracy promotion, as Western governments have
in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, most recently, Libya. But it does mean apply-
ing much more meaningful pressure to authoritarian regimes whether
they are geostrategic friend or foe at any given political snapshot in
time. It means respecting elections, even if the people of another coun-
try freely choose governments that are unfriendly to the West. It means
making hard choices rather than easy ones now, in order to build a
more prosperous and safer world for the future.
â•… In this book, I argue for this third approach, while demonstrating
how and why a combination of the first two strategies is shaping the
world into a more volatile, less prosperous, and less democratic place.
â•… In the last decade, most Western governments have simply tried to
minimize risk in dealing with non-democratic governments. This is
true even of terrible tyrants, so long as they are willing to work with
the West. In the name of stability, security, and economic self-interest,
the United States and its Western allies have repeatedly worked to
forge an uneasy co-existence with dictators, despots, and counterfeit
democrats, from powerful kingdoms like Saudi Arabia to the less men-
acing regimes stalled between dictatorship and democracy that are
scattered across Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America,
and elsewhere.7 In most places, democracy promotion is done half-
heartedly, aimed more at around-the-edges reforms of authoritarian-
ism than at undermining authoritarianism itself.
â•… The problem with this is simple: it’s not working. We now have not
only a less democratic world but also a more unstable one. Authoritarian
regimes project a mirage of stability but then eventually tend to collapse
catastrophically. Democracy can be risky and volatile too, but has built-in
mechanisms to resolve domestic conflict, a safety valve that can help
prevent violence and chaos. If nothing is done and the West remains an
accomplice to despotism, we may have already hit “peak democracy”. It’s
not too late. The trend can be reversed. If it is not, global democracy will
remain at risk, economic growth will continue to underperform its
potential, and Western security will be further imperiled.
â•… The West helps despots in two main ways. The first involves a delib-
erately cozy relationship with an appalling undemocratic regime
because of geostrategic expediency. I call this the “Saudi Arabia Effect.”
It’s why Hillary Clinton has spoken highly of the brutal Saudi royal

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
family, or, in Egypt, why she unflinchingly called the former authoritar-
ian despot Hosni Mubarak and his wife “friends of my family.”8 It’s why
Tony Blair has called Rwandan despot Paul Kagame “a visionary leader,”
and why President Barack Obama hosted a dinner party for Equatorial
Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled with an iron fist for
thirty-seven years as “the country’s god”, claiming “all power over men
and things.”
â•… The second way the West aids and abets despots arises from the
laughably low standards set for counterfeit democracies, creating a
counterproductive incentive for cynical leaders to do only the bare
minimum—to simply appear democratic. This allows Western govern-
ments to accept deeply flawed counterfeit democracies so that they can
work with them in seemingly good conscience. I call this the
“Madagascar Effect,” or the “curse of low expectations.”
â•… Three years ago, I was in Madagascar searching for signs of democ-
racy. Most researchers come to the island to study its lovable lemurs;
few come to explore the habitat of its predatory politicians. But I was
drawn to this puzzling place for its strange struggle with democracy. In
2009, something exceptionally bizarre had happened in a country
where politics is routinely stranger than fiction. Elected president Marc
Ravalomanana—a powerful yogurt kingpin—was overthrown in a
coup d’état by Andry Rajoelina, a 34-year-old radio disc jockey.
Western governments did the right thing immediately after the coup
by putting immense pressure on the new government to return to
democracy. But that pressure wasn’t enough, and it quickly became
clear that the young coup president had more experience with spinning
turntables than with governing an island home to 23 million people.
â•… Madagascar was and is one of the world’s poorest countries. After
the coup, that poverty deepened, leaving nine out of ten islanders liv-
ing on less than $2 per day.9 For the poor in Madagascar, it seems that
when tragedy rains, it also pours. Powerful Indian Ocean cyclones
repeatedly destroyed already crumbling roads and swept away rickety
bridges. Bubonic plague returned to the island, the only place on Earth
where cases of the Medieval Black Death are commonplace in the
twenty-first century. To add a sense of biblical doom to the post-coup
years, locusts swarmed so thick while they devoured the island’s crops
that day sometimes turned to night, as literally billions of insects

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INTRODUCTION
blocked out the sun.10 Millions were left hungry and millions more
remained at risk. If natural disasters weren’t enough to spread misery,
amidst the accompanying lawlessness heavily armed militias with
rocket-propelled grenades turned to industrial-grade cattle rustling,
exporting tens of thousands of humped cattle (known as zebus) for sale
abroad while killing hundreds of villagers during their raids.11
â•… Madagascar’s disc jockey strongman failed to address any of these
challenges, even as he claimed victory on all fronts. His failures would
have been laughable if they weren’t so tragic. I’ll never forget watching
the impromptu street celebrations that broke out in Antananarivo, one
of the world’s most forgotten capitals, when the president declared in
June 2012 that the government had the upper hand in the fight against
the cattle-rustling militias because it had finally captured the bandits’
sorcerer.With much fanfare, the president destroyed the sorcerer’s many
“diabolical objects” on television for the nation to see. Smoldering talis-
mans represented a rare victory for the government’s failed policies.
â•… Of course, I don’t believe in the illusions of sorcerers or magic. But
some illusions seem real in Western rhetoric, like the sort of sleight of
hand that allows Madagascar to be seen as democratic when it certainly
is not. Repeatedly, the West claims to believe that “reformers” are on
the path to democracy, while those same “reformers” do everything in
their power to subvert democracy whenever it clashes with their pur-
suit of power. When that happens, genuine democrats fall victim to the
West’s understandable but ultimately counterproductive efforts that
end up entrenching despotism.
â•… The Madagascar Effect became clear to me almost immediately. On
my first of several visits to the island, I met with the head of one of
Madagascar’s political parties. He presented himself as the island’s sav-
ior, a breath of Western-style fresh air who would blow away the smoke
of smoldering talismans and replace it with more rational, effective,
liberally minded governance.
â•… “Unlike the other political parties,” he told me, “we are a party of
values.”
â•… “Okay,” I responded, “which values?”
â•… A look of panic crossed his face. After a moment, he recovered his
composure.
â•… “Someone go get the values for the American,” he said. “I left the
values in the car.”

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… Presumably there was a dusty booklet full of pristine Western values
just waiting to be read, left discarded in the backseat of a fancy car. I
never could be sure, as he quickly moved on to other topics, hoping I’d
forget about the case of the missing values.
â•… It’s hard to imagine that this amateurish posturing fools anybody. But
the West’s standards for democracy are so low in much of the world that
flowery promises of democratic reforms coupled with superficial action
are sufficient to lighten meaningful foreign policy pressure against a
counterfeit democracy. Far too often the counterfeits manage to pass for
the real thing, in the same way that a crude forgery of a $20 bill might
fool a disinterested 15-year-old cashier at a gas station.
â•… Madagascar benefited from the West’s absurdly low expectations
when it held its 2013 elections, the first since the 2009 coup d’état.
The vote was touted by Western diplomats as an opportunity to return
the island to the international fold of democratic nations. But
Madagascar has never been more than an empty shell for democracy.
These polls were no different. As an election observer, I saw the ugly
array of electoral warts firsthand, and the word “democratic” was
nowhere near the top of the list of adjectives I’d use to describe them.
Illicit funding was funneled to the incumbent’s favored successor.
Several million people were left off the voter rolls. And all this took
place in a toxic political environment that was characterized by one
political analyst I spoke to as “a place where opposition politicians
sometimes ‘fall down the stairs’, but somehow manage to lose all their
fingernails on the way down.”12
â•… Yet, within hours of the polls closing, diplomats were falling over
each other, each trying to outdo the next with words of praise for the
vote. Only a few hundred ballots had been counted, but no matter.
“Free and fair,” said one; “free, transparent, and credible,” added
another; “free and transparent and reflected the will of the people,”
chimed in a third.13 Even for those that knew all too well that this was
not a democracy, it was easier to accept this step toward stability than
to risk further volatility with a meaningful but much harder step
toward true democracy.
â•… Most, if not all, of these Western diplomats believe in democracy.
Their staffs believe in democracy. These are well-intentioned people.
But I’m also certain that every diplomatic cheerleader in this foreign

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INTRODUCTION
policy crowd was aware of the election’s failings. That didn’t matter.
Calling the country “democratic” while sweeping the undemocratic
cobwebs under the rug was more politically convenient. Madagascar
had cleared the West’s low bar. It was allowed, yet again, to wear the
badge of democracy with pride on the international stage. Somehow,
Madagascar convinced us.
â•… Yet since the election, Madagascar has become less, not more,
democratic. Not even a year after the elected president was sworn in,
a general was back in office, as had been the case so many times in
Madagascar’s history—this time as prime minister rather than presi-
dent. This was hardly surprising. Given a free pass in its elections,
Madagascar’s political elites had little reason to embrace democracy
any more than was necessary, basking in power rather than effective
policy, greed over governance. Despotic criminals are allowed to hold
Madagascar’s people hostage, bound to economic misery and political
powerlessness. Madagascar may be an island but it is not alone on this
front. Across the globe, counterfeit democracies routinely pass for the
real thing. When they do, democracy recedes and the world turns a
little bit more toward authoritarian rule.
â•… This is clearly a problem, but it is only part of the problem. The Saudi
Arabia Effect is a more insidious form of Western support for dictator-
ships and counterfeit democracies around the world, where foreign
policy that is knowingly complicit with despots’ activities, intensifies into
becoming an active accomplice to oppression. In those instances, the
problem is less about the West applying low standards and more about
a system that deliberately cozies up to dictators to advance other
Western interests such as perceived stability or economic growth.
Simply put, the West frequently turns a blind eye to ruthless authori-
tarianism in exchange for allegiance in strategically important regions.
By helping despots shore up their grip on power, the West undermines
nascent and fragile movements for democratic reform. This collateral
damage is a major reason for democracy’s recent decline.
â•… This unfortunate reality does not match the rosy rhetoric from
Western leaders. In June 2009, President Obama gave a landmark
speech in Cairo, highlighting America’s commitment to democracy in
the Middle East. I couldn’t agree more with much of the speech, par-
ticularly this excerpt:

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:
the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed;
confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; gov-
ernment that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom
to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human
rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.14
â•… As the most powerful man in the most powerful government on
Earth, President Obama had the opportunity to put those words into
action. It was a missed opportunity, which soon became crystal clear
when crowds gathered in Tahrir Square in 2011, just a few miles from
where Obama spoke.
â•… Less than two months before the Arab Spring germinated hope that
democracy could take root in the stubbornly dictatorial Middle East,
the United States—the world’s self-proclaimed democratic City on a
Hill—announced the largest weapons sale in history. The $60 billion
deal shipped off 12,667 missiles, 18,350 bombs, 190 attack helicop-
ters, and 84 F-15 fighter jets halfway across the world.15 Those weap-
ons of war were not destined for a democratic ally. They were not even
heading to a country that pretended to be democratic or aspired
toward democracy. Instead, they were gift-wrapped and delivered to
ensure the survival of one of the world’s few remaining absolute mon-
archies and one of the world’s most ruthless states: the Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia.
â•… The deal was announced during the media storm just before the
2010 congressional midterm elections in the United States, a tactic
likely used (in the world’s most powerful democracy, no less) to avoid
public debate—a cornerstone of democratic rule. Some in the Obama
administration were eager to avoid discussing the wisdom of selling so
much military might to a kingdom far away on the Arabian Peninsula.
In spite of the sly timing, proponents in the foreign policy establish-
ment found no cause for real concern. So long as the Kingdom
remained stable and the royal family viewed the United States as friend
rather than foe, what was the big deal? Giving them firepower was fine,
so long as they used it against mutual enemies rather than against “us”.
â•… Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia mostly uses that firepower as a way to
quash dissent and challenges from within. Saudi Arabia has one of the
world’s most oppressive governments, competing for that dubious

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INTRODUCTION
label with countries like North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea,
Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—hardly good company. Many people
are aware of the standard abuses in Saudi Arabia: thieves have their
hands cut off; women can’t drive; adultery can still be punished by
death by stoning. But what is perhaps less well known is the extent to
which the United States documents the scale of human rights atrocities
and violence perpetrated against pro-democracy advocates—at the
same time as it acts as the world’s number one backer of the Saudi
royal family. Western weapons and Western money for Saudi oil help
the Kingdom stay a kingdom.
â•… As a result of this assistance, the West—and the United States in
particular—should at least have considerable leverage to force reform
in this medieval regime. In fact, the US successfully used that leverage
in the past. President John F. Kennedy insisted that the American-Saudi
€

partnership could only remain close if Saudi Arabia abolished slavery


(which the United States had done ninety-nine years earlier).16 The
king reluctantly obliged. This was in 1962—color TV, the Beatles, non-
dairy creamer, and breast implants already existed. Of course, for the
ultraconservative Saudi leadership in the 1960s, breast implants and
the Beatles would have provoked far more outrage than slavery.
â•… Since 1962, Western leverage has not been applied in any significant
way to back democracy or scale back human rights abuses in Saudi
Arabia. In fact, as one branch of the US government made final prepa-
rations for the biggest arms deal in world history, another—the State
Department—was busily writing a report on that same government’s
beheadings, floggings, and abuse. Three weeks before the arms deal was
announced, a report noted that two third-grade children in the ancient
oasis town of Qatif on the Persian Gulf were sentenced to “six months
in prison and 120 lashes for stealing examination papers.”17 At the same
time, reports surfaced that a 17-year-old migrant working as a maid for
the Saudi elite had been tortured, her lips cut off with scissors and her
back burned repeatedly with a hot iron.18 The government never pun-
ished the perpetrators. They paid a small fine.
â•… This “leniency” in the Kingdom’s criminal justice system does not
extend to crimes that allegedly break the sacrosanct codes of puritanical
Wahhabi Islam enforced at home (and exported around the world by
Saudi foreign policy, to the delight of extremists and prospective terror-

11
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
ists). Breaking laws in the kingdom is dangerous. Dozens, and occasion-
ally, hundreds of times per year, a macabre theatre of the absurd is per-
formed publicly on Saudi streets. The protagonist is guilty of something
different each time. Disavowing Islam. Homosexuality. Taking illegal
drugs. Even practicing “witchcraft.” No matter. Each protagonist in this
medieval tale meets his or her end with predictable tragedy.
â•… A man dressed in white approaches the condemned prisoner in the
street, in full view of the public. The prisoner is lightly tranquilized,
blindfolded, and placed on a plastic tarp to help contain the inevitable
mess. Then, the executioner slashes at their neck with a long, curved
sword, cleaving head from body. The epilogue to the beheading is often
the same: the head is collected, bagged, and hung alongside the
corpse.19 The rest is nailed to a cross, a public reminder not to cross the
kings and princes who rule Saudi Arabia with a proverbial iron fist—
one that was largely smelted in the weapons factories of the West.
â•… This is one of the West’s closest allies.
â•… Public beheadings were performed several times in November
2010, the same month that the young maid, Sumiati Binti Salan
Mustapa, had her lips cut off with scissors. How did the West respond
to such horrors? With risk-averse, status quo pragmatism. This is
understandable but ultimately misguided. It’s an example that show-
cases why democracy promotion is so difficult and fraught with peril.
I’ll be the first to admit that the prospect of a democratic Saudi Arabia
is terrifying. The people are certainly more anti-West than the ruling
family. Therefore, it’s certainly true that a democratic Saudi Arabia
could be a disaster for Western interests in the region. But the close-
knit alliance is untenable over the longer term. If we keep supporting
the ruthless kings in Riyadh, it’ll be much, much worse for the West
when Saudi Arabia’s regime eventually collapses.
â•… To ensure that collapse wouldn’t happen any time soon, the United
States sold 150 more Javelin anti-tank missiles to the Kingdom the
same month as the slew of beheadings and the maid’s horrific abuse,
tacked on as an afterthought to its gangbuster October sale of bombs
and helicopters and jets.20 Business as usual.
â•… But, a month later, something remarkable happened more than
2,000 miles away from the scorching hot streets of Riyadh. A humble
young vegetable vendor in Tunisia, who could no longer stand living

12
INTRODUCTION
under a dictatorship, set himself on fire. That literal spark set the entire
Middle East, a bastion of ruthless but stable authoritarian regimes,
ablaze. One man set a chain of events in motion that exposed the
uneasy hypocrisy of Western foreign relations in the region for what
they were: loudly praising democracy while quietly petting dictator-
ships under the table, as kings, emirs, and despots purred with smug
satisfaction about their seeming invincibility.
â•… Soon, Tunisia’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali—a major despotic
ally of the West in North Africa—was toppled, in January 2011. As he
fell, the call for change spread to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Eventually, the
protests grew too loud, too visible, too democratic for the West to
ignore. For many elites in Western democracies, their hearts were with
the democratic protesters, but their cynical, pragmatic minds sided
with the dictators.
â•… This is when things got interesting. The incipient buzz of democracy
was an unprecedented challenge to Egypt’s despot.Yet, for the play-it-
safe West, the prospect of the democratic unknown was terrifying.
Nonetheless, little by little, a seductive thought crept into foreign
policy circles. Maybe, just maybe, the democrats could win, toppling
Hosni Mubarak from his pharaoh’s throne. Trapped between decades of
lofty, hopeful democratic rhetoric and hard-nosed foreign policy real-
ity, the Western establishment waited and watched in Egypt, hoping to
determine the winner before backing them. In February 2011, it
became clear that Mubarak was going to lose.
â•… This revelation came, strangely enough, with a stampede of camels. In
an era so advanced that images from the thronged Cairo square were
beamed across the globe by satellites soaring thousands of miles above
the Earth, viewers around the world watched on live television as regime
supporters took a page from their long-dead Ottoman predecessors’
playbook and unsuccessfully attempted to drive protesters off by gallop-
ing across the square on the humps of confused camels.21 The thugs shook
their sticks and clubs, a strikingly à propos metaphor for how outdated
dictatorship in the Middle East was starting to seem in the twenty-first
century. The protesters were undeterred. The thugs on camels eventually
slunk away. The protesters’ chants for change continued: Ash-shab yurid
isqat an-nizam! (the people want to bring down the regime!)
â•… They did bring Mubarak down. But the Tahrir Square protests were
not about replacing one despot with another. They were about repla�

13
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
cing a despot with a cadre of democrats. For the Middle East, that
admirable goal was uncharted territory. In the eyes of the United States
and its Western allies—the world’s primary bastions of democracy—
uncharted democratic territory was risky and dangerous. As a result,
the West met Egypt’s turn toward democracy with more of the reluc-
tant acceptance reserved for an obnoxious but unavoidable in-law than
the eager embrace reserved for a brother.
â•… However, once President Obama and his Western allies realized that
the democratic in-law was now in charge in Egypt, they began to do the
right thing: actually try to support democracy. Soon after Mubarak
exited the scene, the United States began disbursing $65 million in grants
aimed at strengthening civil society and paving the way for Egypt’s first
modern free and fair elections.22 There was even a sense of palpable albeit
cautious optimism in the Western foreign policy establishment, where
murmurs began that the long dormant forces for democracy might actu-
ally be able to pull it off and fulfill Egypt’s peaceful, democratic aspira-
tions. There were even hesitant whispers that Egypt’s transformation
could mark a new democratic dawn for the entire region.
â•… Those aspirations soon fell flat with an astounding thud. Egypt’s
experiment with being led by a democratically elected president lasted
for almost exactly one year, as the June 2012 election that propelled
Mohammed Morsi into power was overshadowed by the July 2013
coup d’état that replaced him with generals in the presidential palace.
President Obama now found himself in a bind. After reluctantly
embracing the democratic transition, he found himself forced to
grudgingly accept military rule. Egypt was deemed too strategically
important to abandon, and it was even out of the question to pare
down or withhold the $1.3 billion in foreign aid promised to Egypt
annually since 1987 (given to reward willingness to work and cooper-
ate with another US ally in the region: Israel).23 Yet an obscure and
rarely enforced 1961 law on the books explicitly forbade the US gov-
ernment from providing “any assistance to any country whose duly
elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.”24
â•… President Morsi had clearly been duly elected. His replacement
came to power in an archetypal coup d’état. The new president was a
general. So it was hard to dispute that Egypt’s 2013 experience was
precisely what the law was describing. Yet in acts of linguistic contor-

14
INTRODUCTION
tion that would have made Orwell’s double-speaking Big Brother pay
attention and take notes, the State Department and White House press
secretaries searched the depths of their vocabularies for all phrases
except “coup d’état” to describe the military takeover. They managed
it, in spite of some cringeworthy press conferences. Everyone in the
room knew that the poor press secretary had been instructed to tiptoe
carefully around the rhetorically obvious word. But a coup is a coup,
and dressing it up with linguistic legalese can’t change that.
â•… Nevertheless, the status quo pragmatism that dominates Western
foreign policy remained in place, trading less risk now for more risk
later. Billions continued to flow to the post-coup government, even
though everyone knew it was a violation of the 1961 law. The US ver-
bally reprimanded Egypt’s military leaders, but $1.3 billion in military
aid speaks louder than $65 million aimed at promoting democracy
against that same regime.
â•… The pro-democracy hearts and the pragmatic minds in the West
were yet again at odds over General Sisi’s post-coup Egypt. The United
States sought ways to prod a return to democracy even while maintain-
ing a friendly disposition (and waving a generous government check-
book) toward a group of generals that had overthrown a democratically
elected leader. In the wake of the coup, the heartstrings still had some
pull in Washington. Surely, the United States could count on its allies—
allies like Saudi Arabia that sold their diplomatic loyalty for American
weapons—to support a gradual pro-democracy reform agenda in
Egypt if Washington asked them to.
â•… When diplomatic push came to shove, however, the $60 billion
Saudi arms deal wasn’t worth much. Less than a week after the demo-
cratically elected President Morsi was overthrown, Saudi Arabia
announced that it would provide a generous $5 billion aid package to
Egypt. It coordinated with other regional despots to pump money into
the military regime.25 This move effectively ended the possibility that
Egypt’s Arab Spring would end in anything other than a desert Arab
Winter for democracy.
â•… The West may have had tepid support at best for Egyptian democ-
racy in the first place, but the Saudis had undermined the West’s last
hope for a major Arab democratic regional power. Yet again, the West
chose the seemingly safe path. That same day, rather than expressing

15
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
anger at the Kingdom for undermining American foreign policy goals,
the United States doubled down on its hypocritical relationships. The
US government announced that it was selling $1.2 billion worth of
special operations naval craft to Saudi Arabia.26 Three weeks later, Raif
Badawi, a Saudi pro-democracy blogger advocating for secular liberal
reform, was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. Six
months after that, his sentence was increased to ten years in prison and
1,000 lashes.27 He may still face the threat of beheading for “abandon-
ing Islam”, a punishment for speaking your mind that ends with sever-
ing your head. This is the Saudi Arabia Effect in action.
â•… The West, unlike too many pro-democracy bloggers in the Kingdom,
still has its head intact, but is clearly of two minds in this debate. Chasing
democracy sometimes and stability other times often ends up creating
neither. During the Arab Spring, and continuing today, the Western (and
particularly American) governments allied themselves with two regimes
that were not just undemocratic, but were actively opposing democracy.
One autocratic outpost (Egypt) had just ousted a democratically elected
president in favor of military rule and received billions from the West in
return. The other (Saudi Arabia) was a kingdom that crushed democratic
protests during the Arab Spring in Qatif (where the third graders had
been lashed for trying to cheat on a test), and then sought to ensure that
democracy would be definitively toppled in Egypt too. As a reward, the
Kingdom received billions more in weapons deals and even firmer dip-
lomatic support from Western capitals.
â•… Shortsighted pragmatic minds routinely beat out democratic hearts
in the West. The royalists outgunned the reformers. Perhaps that was
the path that ensured stability. But how long can you control a despotic
medieval system that rests on the cracking foundations of a badly dam-
aged economy and authoritarian repression that is increasingly rejected
by its own people? Saudi Arabia is starting to fray in the face of low
global oil prices. Analysts now speak about the Kingdom’s impending
collapse. In the meantime, the Wahhabist royal family exports terror-
ism, which has spread into Europe and the United States.28 Egypt is
little better, with a fragile military despot at the helm. We are left with
a ticking despotic time bomb.
â•… The Saudi Arabia Effect involves actively supporting strategically
important dictatorial regimes in pursuit of competing agendas that do

16
INTRODUCTION
not prioritize democracy. The Madagascar Effect involves prodding less
strategically important regimes toward democracy, but only pressing
them to clear an embarrassingly low bar of democratic quality. Both
phenomena are key culprits in the twenty-first-century decline of
democracy. They help explain how and why the world’s champions of
democracy are also accomplices in imperiling it.
â•… This book is certainly not an anti-Western diatribe or a tale of con-
spiracy theories. The West has, until recently, been the only interna-
tional force in the world for actively spreading democratic govern-
ment. It’s the only group of nations that invests its limited resources in
pursuit of that admirable goal. That’s remarkable. It’s laudable. And it’s
well intentioned. The West’s efforts have often paid off, too. Japan,
Germany, and South Korea are democracies at least in part due to
critical and generous Western support. Western foreign policy has
helped democracy flourish in some parts of Africa and much of
Eastern Europe—regions that had been under the yoke of tyranny
throughout most of their history. More recently, Western govern-
ments have pushed democracy forward in countries as diverse as
Ghana, Estonia, Mongolia, and Tunisia. So rather than bashing the West,
this book is focused on how the West could do better, while acknowl-
edging existing Western efforts to promote and support democracy
worldwide. But the same forces backing democracy in the West are
now failing to make the world more democratic—sometimes by design,
because other priorities are deemed more important, and sometimes
because Western standards for democracy are far too low for other
countries, where what’s “good enough for them” is not the same as
with “what’s good enough for us.”
â•… I do not believe that combating democracy is the prevailing goal in
any of these cases. There is no conspiracy—just complex, messy and
sometimes contradictory foreign policy realities. Dictators and savvy
counterfeit democrats are not easy to deal with. Nor are fragile democ-
racies. Every interaction is fraught with peril. To navigate this complex-
ity, there is an entire Western democracy support industry—which has
its share of failings—but is nonetheless composed of well-intentioned,
hard-working people who try to help democracy germinate across
barren dictatorial dirt and the fickle soils that lie between dictatorship
and democracy.

17
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… These technical experts and their work should be celebrated. But they
need more help. Far too often, the millions spent on low-level democ-
racy support on the ground are rendered almost meaningless, derailed
by the high-level diplomatic agendas that so often imperil democracy.
What do we expect in spending millions on programs ensuring women’s
representation in Jordan’s parliament, if the West simultaneously helps
ensure that the parliament remains the king’s puppet? As millions are
disbursed for Jordanian “democracy”, Western governments pump in
billions of dollars’ worth of weapons that ensure the survival of the
friendly Jordanian monarchy. Technocrats teach women how to be
elected to a sham parliament while smiling Western presidents pose for
photo ops with King Abdullah II. Diplomatic support for the kingdom at
€

the high level undermines technical training and support at the low level.
Uncoordinated, conflicting agendas doom democracy.
â•… There is one major case in recent history where high-level diplo-
macy and low-level local democracy support have worked together:
Tunisia since the Arab Spring. What was the result? The country
received the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its democratic success—the
only Arab Spring country where democratic governance took root.29
There is, of course, no guarantee that Tunisia will remain democratic,
particularly with myriad threats ranging from economic woes to ter-
rorist attacks. But the Tunisian example demonstrates what can be pos-
sible in countries where local leadership is eager to democratize and
willing to work in tandem with Western presidents and diplomats who
coordinate their efforts with the technical support on the ground.
â•… If democracy is possible in places like Tunisia, why does the West so
often act as an accomplice to despots? There is no simple answer. These
questions are difficult, and even well-intentioned diplomats who firmly
believe in democracy and hope to promote it abroad are forced to
consider serious tradeoffs. For example, how should the United States
have interacted with Pakistan’s military government in 2002 when
Pakistani intelligence cooperation was perceived as vital to success
against the Taliban and the search for Osama Bin Laden? Cozying up to
a brutal post-coup military regime is ugly business, but so was the
prospect of taking the democracy high road: shunning the military
government but making it more likely that mass murderers responsible
for 9/11 would go free. Unreflective support of democratic princi-

18
INTRODUCTION
ples—no matter the costs—can be as damaging as an outstretched
hand to dictatorship while turning a blind eye.
â•… Making the world more democratic requires walking a delicate
tightrope. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Getting it wrong would not
only continue making the world less democratic but could also cause
the world to fall into further terrorism, war, or needless political vola-
tility. Nonetheless, in this book, I provide my best attempt to answer
several profoundly difficult but crucial questions.
â•… Is the devil we know better than the devil we don’t? Is the West at
least partly to blame for the world’s crisis of democracy and the last
decade of democratic backsliding? Can democracy be spread with
force? How can we deal with countries that would be even more
staunchly anti-Western if they were to democratize? Should we provide
golden parachutes to entice dictators to leave power as we hold our
noses at our sense of injustice in doing so? Can digital technology be a
weapon used against dictators and despots? And, most important of all,
what could be done differently to reverse the current trend and return
to a global resurgence of democracy?
â•… These are enormous questions fraught with strategic and moral
considerations. I nonetheless set off to answer them by conducting
research around the globe—bringing me to places as diverse as the
whitewashed Mediterranean villas of Tunis, the bustling streets of leafy
Bangkok, the post-Soviet grayness of Minsk, and the post-civil war
West African boomtown of Abidjan.
â•… After years of exploring democracy and despotism in Africa, Asia,
the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and after hundreds of interviews
with politicians, diplomats, generals, coup plotters, rebels, journalists
and academics, I’m convinced that simple answers do not exist.
Ideologues claiming to have them are unhelpful. But I’ve nonetheless
come away more certain than ever that democracy—true democ-
racy—is not just an admirable value, but one that makes the world
richer, safer, and more stable.
â•… I find it too difficult to stomach the notion that Saudi bloggers
should resign themselves to being lashed or even having their head
chopped off for speaking their mind, simply because that government
is the West’s strategic ally on the global stage. But I also firmly believe
that Western foreign policy must further Western interests. In this

19
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
book, I argue that there is room to reconcile both sides. Western hearts
and diplomatic minds can work together. We can wean ourselves off a
counterproductive alliance with barbaric states like Saudi Arabia and
we can also expose the absurdity of democracy peddlers like the “pro-
values” political party in Madagascar. Over the long term, Western
interests are served far better by genuine democratic partners than by
the mirage of stability provided by dictatorial allies like Saudi Arabia or
the illusion of political freedom conjured up in counterfeit democra-
cies like Madagascar. The path toward democratization is a perilous and
long one, but will ultimately reduce the threat of terrorism, cool down
possible conflict hotspots, and drive stronger economic growth.
Boosting democracy around the globe is the right thing to do, but it
also benefits the West and its citizens.
â•… In this book, I explore why democracy is in retreat and suggest
solutions to get it on the march again. In doing so, I’ve found that the
protagonists in the stories of global democracy are often bizarre. Their
tales are frequently unbelievable. There’s the birth of democracy in
Athens that can be traced to a fateful incident involving gay lovers; or
the failed Cold War CIA plot to assassinate a Congolese politician with
poisoned toothpaste; or the backfiring “democracy war” quagmires in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; or Rwandan hitmen plotting to assassinate
pro-democracy critics in London; or the results of an election in
Azerbaijan being released on an iPhone app the day before voting took
place; or the tragicomic blowhard Donald Trump blustering about how
he has himself as his primary foreign policy adviser because he “has a
very good brain” and he’s “said a lot things”; or even the story of how a
Turkish court was forced to enlist “Gollum experts” to determine if a
pro-democracy activist comparing the authoritarian President Erdoggan €

to the Lord of the Rings character was, in fact, insulting him.


â•… Curious and occasionally amusing tales aside, the crisis of democ-
racy is real and it is dangerous. In the coming chapters, I explain how
the West is aiding and abetting the decline of global democracy, and
provide ten principles that can guide us instead to its resurgence.
Following them will help create a safer, richer, and more just world.
â•… But first, to understand the future of democracy and its spread
around the world, we need to understand its past and its principles.

20
1

A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY

I believe in democracy.
â•… I grew up in Minnesota, the state that produced the “Minnesota
Miracle” of world-class schools while giving America the wholesome,
principled leadership of Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey. It’s
the kind of place that instills in you a staunch belief that politics can
truly be a force for good and that democracy works. Minnesotans
genuinely believe—in the words of the late Minnesota Senator Paul
Wellstone—“We all do better when we all do better.” In spite of my
biased “statriotism”, nobody would dispute that Minnesota truly is a
shining example of how collaborative democratic politics can yield
impressive results.
â•… Yet as long as democracy has existed throughout history, there have
been those very un-Minnesotan characters that would abuse the system
for personal gain and power. For every genuine democrat, there are
usually several demagogues or dictators who pretend to be democrats.
That, in a nutshell, is the long-term history of democracy. It has ebbed
and flowed across continents and across centuries, from Ancient
Greece and Rome, to modernizing Europe and the Americas, and now
across the globe. But whenever a new incarnation of democracy is
born, someone, somewhere, inevitably attempts to break free from
democratic constraints and take advantage of democracy’s intrinsic
weaknesses.

21
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… It didn’t take long for that to happen in the storied birthplace of
modern democracy, Ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology,
the end of the Trojan War had one silver lining for the great surviving
warriors of the time: the prize of Achilles’ armor—an eternal symbol
of heroic martyrdom. The only way to fairly award it, in accordance
with early Greek democracy, was with a vote. Like many elections, it
quickly became clear that there were two main contenders: Ajax and
Odysseus. Both leaders eloquently made their case, in an ancient form
of the modern-day stump speech. Then, ballots were cast. Odysseus
won narrowly, though Ajax insisted that his rival had been a “thievish
maker of votes,” rigging the election somehow, perhaps with pre-
marked leaves, or behind-the-scenes deals.1
â•… As Sophocles tells it, the consequences of history’s first stolen
election were severe, at least for Ajax. Driven mad by defeat, he
entered a hallucinogenic state induced by Athena, and began slaugh-
tering sheep and cows that he mistakenly believed to be supporters
of his rival, Odysseus. As madness finally receded, shame at his own
brutality and dishonor flooded in. Ajax impaled himself on his sword
and died.2 This mythic parable—of manipulated democracy and its
tragic consequences—fits rather well with the risks of democratic
government throughout history, even without the intervention of
vengeful goddesses.
â•… Yet it’s not just a problem of democracy being hijacked by “thievish
makers of votes.” While it’s taboo to admit it, democracy has some
innate flaws and dictatorship has some innate strengths. Just after the
world’s few democracies banded together (along with the Soviet
Union) to win World War II, Winston Churchill was nonetheless a
reluctant champion of democracy, saying: “Democracy is the worst
form of government except for all those other forms that have been
tried.”3 Churchill was right; democracy—when done well—is imper-
fect, but it is the best way to organize societies and govern countries.
But a twenty-first-century Churchill, confronted with the all-too-
common toxins of rigged elections, predatory politicians, and intense
political violence in the world’s so-called “democracies” might qualify
his statement, adding that: “Democracy done badly can be one of the
worst forms of government, including all those other forms that have
been tried.”

22
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
â•… In the West, it’s difficult to imagine permanently living in a society
without any measure of political freedom. But it’s perhaps equally dif-
ficult to imagine that people who live without democracy may be less
troubled by that fact than we might assume. For most people in the
world, the struggles of daily life significantly overshadow the desire for
political freedoms. This is not because they don’t want democracy, but
rather because democracy often falls further down on their list of per-
sonal priorities than, say, clean water, a stable income, quality health
care for their kids, and other necessities that are easy to take for
granted in Western economies.
â•… Nonetheless, any genuine democracy is always preferable to the worst
dictatorships (such as those of Stalin, Hitler, or Mao), but “bad” or coun-
terfeit democracies can in fact be worse than “good” authoritarianism.
After all, dictatorships may offer stability but no voice for the people.
Sham democracies with rigged elections usually offer neither.
â•… Most of us would be willing to give up our democratic freedoms for
the right price. This does not negate the value of democracy. But, if you
were faced with a contrived choice between being poor in a demo-
cratic society or comparatively rich under an authoritarian regime,
would you exchange your right to vote for a salary that was five, or ten,
or 100 times larger than your current income?
â•… We don’t deal with these tradeoffs in the West because we have the
luxury of living with economic riches and political freedom. But, if
we had to choose, most people—myself included—would rather be
born and live in authoritarian Singapore than the electoral democracy
of Benin. After all, the average Beninese worker would need to toil for
sixty-eight years to match the annual salary of the average Singaporean.
Voting seems a rather sorry consolation prize for the urban poor of
Cotonou.
â•… This is, of course, a false choice. For decades, conventional wisdom
in political science and economics touted the myth that authoritarian
regimes were better for economic growth than democratic gover-
nance. Now, the preponderance of evidence suggests that a few outliers
skewed earlier studies to draw incorrect conclusions. Most scholars
now agree that, at least on a global scale, there is no systematically
obvious economic drawback to democracy and no economic edge for
dictatorship. There are rich authoritarian countries and poor demo-

23
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
cratic ones.4 The opposite is true too. Eight of the ten largest econo-
mies are democracies.5 However, in per capita terms, six of the ten
richest populations live under authoritarian regimes, though almost all
of them are rich because of oil.6 The majority of the world’s countries
are not rich, whether they are democratic or not. For every Singapore,
there are several Eritreas and for every Norway there are several
Nicaraguas. But even though there are multiple pathways to riches, the
economic potential of democracies is often greater than the economic
potential of authoritarian states. For the moment, though, let’s take the
statistics at face value and consider it a wash.
â•… Aberrations, outliers, and flukes can skew statistics. There are, how-
ever, intrinsic strengths and weaknesses to both democracy and dicta-
torship. Democracy’s strongest asset is inclusion, putting everyone in
the same boat, which creates a buy-in of shared benefits and shared
responsibility. Whether in China, Japan, Russia, or the United States,
citizens are more likely to engage constructively with a regime that
they feel takes their voices seriously. Democracy maximizes that feel-
ing. In turn, the government must ensure at least a minimal baseline of
wellbeing for the people, or face being replaced in elections. Nobel
Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has demonstrated the virtues of
this asset, arguing that this connection between the government and
the governed is why no modern democratic state—including his birth-
place, democratic India—has had a famine.7 Mao’s Great Leap Forward
in China alone provides 15 million counterexamples on the authoritar-
ian side of the ledger.
â•… Moreover, the broader democratic “marketplace of ideas” that
accompanies citizen participation allows the best ideas to swim while
the worst ideas sink. When Libya’s longtime dictator Muammar
Gaddafi had a bad or bizarre idea (like ordering his military to shoot
down a civilian airliner or employing an impractical horde of Amazon-
style virgin fighters as his presidential guard), those ideas became real-
ity without question—sometimes almost instantly. Even authoritarian,
oligarchic China has recognized the drawbacks of this style of dictator-
ship to a limited extent, which is why Chinese state policies are crafted
by collaboration, drawing on a wide array of party officials, rather than
by an all-powerful despot at the top (demonstrating that even authori-
tarian regimes that don’t base their decisions on the overall voice of the

24
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
people still “borrow” aspects of democracy).8 Beyond state policies, the
free exchange of ideas in democracies spurs private innovation, a boon
not only for growth but also for developing novel government
approaches to existing problems. Democracy, by definition, is inher-
ently more collaborative and more willing to consider alternatives
before launching new policies—a crucial advantage.
â•… Dictators are also weakened over the long-term because they do not
face substantial costs when they make mistakes—even catastrophic
ones. Take Turkmenistan’s former longtime dictator, Saparmurat
Niyazov. Many of his decisions were highly eccentric but mostly harm-
less—such as changing the word for bread to the name of his mother
(Gurbansoltan), or banning smoking because he was personally trying
to kick the habit, or outlawing beards and lip-syncing nationwide
because he hated both.9 But in 2004 and 2005, Niyazov unilaterally
fired 15,000 rural health workers and shut all the hospitals outside the
capital with the reasoning that sick people should enjoy the opulent
city of Asghabat during their care.10 Mobility is not the strong suit of
most severely ill people, so his absurd policy surely killed thousands.
That death toll later rose, as he severed the pensions of a third of the
nation’s elderly citizens, and then had the audacity to make them pay
back two years’ worth of payments that they had already received—to
settle debts incurred by “crucial” state expenses like the Neutrality
Arch, a $12 million, 246 foot tall gold statue of Niyazov himself that
rotates to always face the sun.11
â•… In a democracy, these mistakes may still be possible (gold statues of
Donald Trump seem more plausible than ever, after all), but at least
such state abuse would likely result in a change of government with
impeachment or at the next election. Instead, Niyazov stayed in power
until his death in 2006. Democracy, by its very nature, would have
allowed the Turkmen people the opportunity to replace their dictator
(and perhaps openly lip-sync a farewell song while doing so).
â•… But sometimes, authoritarianism shines beyond the glimmering
statues. In May 2003, the SARS outbreak in China threatened to spread
into a global pandemic. The crisis was largely averted because authori-
tarianism allowed China to act without consulting society or abiding by
“pesky” labor laws. The government built a 1,000-bed hospital facility
dedicated to SARS patients in eight days.12 They broke ground on a

25
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
Tuesday and patients were ready to move in by the following
Wednesday. 7,000 people worked day and night until it was done. The
outbreak was contained. By contrast, groundbreaking for the New
Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California took place in 2013 for the
600-bed facility, which will not house patients until early 2018. Of
course, these facilities are not comparable, and China’s labor strategy
for the SARS hospital was appalling. But, the red tape of democracy—
which often prevents bad ideas (like closing rural hospitals in
Turkmenistan) from gaining steam—also slows down, or can derail,
progress. This can be a critical difference during crises, when govern-
ment response time is essential.
â•… Democracy has other Achilles’ heels. Transparency is a key feature
of truly democratic states. But too much transparency can be a bad
thing. How could the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, averting a dangerous
foreign policy crisis, have been successfully negotiated if both Iranian
and American diplomats were forced to brainstorm a compromise on
live television? Closed doors shielded diplomats from public scrutiny
and allowed them to entertain bridge-building ideas during negotia-
tions that would have been unpopular with their respective domestic
constituencies. It worked.
â•… Likewise, too much accountability can be a weakness. Knee-jerk
overreactions to comparatively small events like a localized, low-casu-
alty terrorist attack are far more likely to occur in democracies as
leaders are forced to respond to citizen fear. Such concern on the part
of the electorate, a definitive feature of Western democracy, paradoxi-
cally derails the West’s commitment to democracy elsewhere. Short-
term election cycles breed shortsighted politics. Presidents and prime
ministers are often less concerned with democratization over the next
quarter-century than they are with stability in the present. It’s easier to
convince Theresa May to pursue a strategy that will help her poll num-
bers than to invest in a political gift for her successor by troubling the
short-term waters. Insulated autocrats, on the other hand, can stay the
course (even if the course is usually not a very pleasant one).
â•… None of these reasons are sufficient to reject democracy and become
a cheerleader for some form of supposedly benevolent dictatorship.
Without an exceptionally paternalist mindset, it is difficult to argue in
principle against the core tenet of democracy: that citizens should have

26
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
a meaningful say in how they are governed. In the meantime, however,
China and Russia are eager to capitalize on these weaknesses. Both
states present themselves as alternative models to the world. That mes-
sage is potent, and it’s a key reason why we have seen democracy
recede globally rather than in just one region. In the last decade, South
Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Ukraine, Colombia, Venezuela,
Ethiopia, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Turkey, and Egypt (to name but
a few) have veered away from democracy. These cases overshadow the
rare success stories, like Chile or Tunisia.
â•… Democracy is an “essentially contested concept,” meaning that there
are unending disagreements over what is democracy and what is not.13
There is no “one size fits all” approach. But some aspects of democ-
racy—like elections—are so central that they are present in all its
varieties. Elections are, of course, not enough. For any genuine democ-
racy to survive and thrive, there need to be three legs to its system:
state power, citizen participation, and the rule of law.
â•… Like a tripod, knocking off any one of these legs makes the whole
thing collapse. The first leg (state power) allows governments to get
things done; without effective state power, even the most well-inten-
tioned democratically elected leader cannot provide for the country’s
citizens. The other two legs work to constrain state power, ensuring
that the government avoids the mistakes and abuses of authoritarian
rule and is responsive to the people while protecting the rights of the
minority. Without engaged citizen participation, the people cannot
rule. Without the rule of law, citizens can never be treated as equals in
decision-making.14
â•… Without the demos (the people), democracy loses its soul. But with-
out the kratos (power or authority), democracy loses its effectiveness.
Put differently, if democracy is supposed to be government “of the
people, by the people, and for the people,” even the best weak democ-
racies (or authoritarian states masquerading as democracies) often fall
tragically short of being “for the people.” This is where there is room
for a dictatorial state with plenty of kratos to run circles around a well-
meaning cadre of earnest democrats lacking it. It’s why the procedural
system of democracy alone is no panacea. It’s why I’d rather live in
authoritarian Singapore than democratic Benin.
â•… Around 2,500 years ago, Athenians made the same argument, in
reverse. This is where the history of democracy usually begins. Athenians

27
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
proudly proclaimed why they would rather live in democratic Athens
than dictatorial Persia. They pointed to their major military victories
against the Persians at sea (Salamis) and on land (Marathon) to illus-
trate their superiority. To the Athenians and their allies, democracy
bred their victory; tyranny was a weakness and a shamefully backward
form of governance.15
â•… It wasn’t always seen that way in Ancient Greece. Many who study
the period credit Solon’s reforms as a necessary precursor to democ-
racy in Athens. But the history of recognizable democracy also began,
strangely enough, with a homosexual lovers’ quarrel in the sixth cen-
tury BC. For Athenians, the lovers—Harmodius and Aristogeiton—
€ €

were the equivalent of what George Washington represents for


Americans. According to popular Athenian legend, democracy was, in
effect, born because Hipparchus, the brother of the ruling tyrant, tried
to seduce Harmodius. This angered Aristogeiton, who convinced his
lover Harmodius to assassinate both Hipparchus and his tyrant brother,
Hippias. Lovers scorned, tyrants toppled.
â•… As Thucydides chronicles, the two young lovers concealed their
daggers beneath their cloaks and pounced at the opportune moment.
Their daggers struck Hipparchus in the heart, striking him down in a
pool of blood during a public celebration. But Hippias escaped, as his
guards killed Harmodius during the assassination attempt before
arresting and torturing Aristogeiton. Harrowed by the brazen attack,
Hippias cracked down on internal dissent, intensifying the ruthlessness
of his tyranny. As a result, the demos rallied against his rule and over-
threw him, with the help of Sparta.16 The downfall of tyranny paved the
way for Cleisthenes, who would usher in a democratic constitution in
507/8 BC. Harmodius and Aristogeiton nonetheless remained the
€ €

revered symbols of democratic martyrdom for Athens.


â•… Athens was arguably not the first democratic system. However, it
was the most prominent and most representative in the ancient world.
Thousands of years earlier, proto-democratic forms of government had
been tested in Ancient Mesopotamia, perhaps most notably in the
Kingdom of Ebla, where kings were elected rather than selected and
nobility was not strictly limited by lineage. Similar proto-democratic
practices were sprinkled throughout the ancient world.17 However,
none went nearly so far as Athens, where a stunningly radical form of
direct democracy first graced the world’s political stage.

28
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
â•… In practice, a citizen assembly largely decided the affairs of Athens.
Women, slaves, and foreigners were not allowed to participate. Still,
political decisions being left to an assembly of up to tens of thousands
of people was a remarkable break from the tyranny of the one. The
larger assembly was assisted by the Council of Five Hundred, which
recommended possible ideas for approval by the larger body. Voting
was often done by a show of hands. For some votes, including whether
to grant citizenship, votes were done by casting small pebbles—black
for no and white for yes—into an urn (giving rise, eventually, to our
modern usage of the term “blackballing”).18 For other votes, prefer-
ences were recorded on broken pottery shards, leaving historians with
a wealth of surviving ancient ballots.19
â•… With this inclusive system of consultative government, Athens
became the pre-eminent Greek power, founding the Delian League of
Greek city-states in 477 BC. Its intellectual life flourished, as debate
€ €

and discussion produced Socrates, Plato, Aristophanes, Sophocles,


Herodotus, Thucydides, Pericles, and eventually Aristotle.
â•… Democracy produced greatness. It also destroyed it. In 404 BC, the
€

Athenians’ main Greek rivals, Sparta, backed a group known to history


as the Thirty Tyrants, who sought to wrestle democratic control from
Athenians and establish an elite oligarchy. They succeeded. Socrates had
taught one of the leaders of the group, Critias. The oligarchy did not
last, and was overthrown after just over a year in power. As the popular
tide turned against the tyrants, Socrates fell under suspicion. He was
put on trial, convicted by the majority vote of a citizen jury, and then
sentenced to death—again by a vote. He was given the poison hem-
lock, which he willingly drank, provoking endless historical debate as
to whether he did so in protest against the injustices of democracy, in
order to become a political scapegoat that could heal Athens, or
because he believed in abiding by the rule of the people.20 Whichever
interpretation is correct, democracy created one of the world’s great-
est philosophers, but devoured him too.21
â•… The Athenian prototype for direct democracy, at least until the
advent of modern communications technology, required a physical
presence.That limited the sizes of Athenian-style democracies severely—
to a few dozen square miles at most. By contrast, Durack district in
Western Australia, which is home to just 90,000 voters today, covers

29
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
613,000 square miles. If the electoral district were a country, it would
be the eighteenth largest in the world, sandwiched between the vast
territories of Iran and Mongolia. One MP, Melissa Price, represents the
entire area. “During the election campaign, I slept in a different bed
every night,” she recently told me. To drive the 1,804 miles to meet
voters from one end of her district, Geraldton, to the other, Kununurra,
Price would need to set aside twenty-nine hours. Thankfully, she can
fly to about ten of the 300 towns in the area she represents. The advent
of electronic communications and e-newsletters has made her job
easier. Those are necessary workarounds; if you distributed the land in
Durack between all of Price’s voters equally, each would get 3,388
football fields’ worth. Even with such a giveaway, Kununurrans prob-
ably wouldn’t be too excited about the prospect of driving for two or
three days to scrawl their preferences on a pottery shard, or to put a
pebble in an urn. For that reason, “We don’t do a lot of door knocking,”
Price explained.22 An innovation was needed to make democracy over
such vast distances possible.23
â•… That innovation was representative democracy. If the Athenians
popularized a rudimentary form of direct democracy, the Romans
popularized a prototype of indirect, or representative, democracy. But,
except for in Antiquity, the idea never really took root until the twi-
light years of the Dark Ages (which were particularly dark for democ-
racy). During that time, the divine birthright of kings was an accepted
fact, and representative democracy was an absurd concept. As John
Keane put it, that idea survived until people began to challenge the
fallacy that “sperm was the carrier of good government.”24
â•… If a love triangle of scorned lovers indirectly gave birth to democ-
racy, a dribbling epileptic arguably revived it. Alfonso IX of Léon grew
up known as baboso, “the slobberer”, either due to fits of uncontrollable
epilepsy or because he foamed at the mouth when he was particularly
angry (accounts differ). This was only one step above Bermudo the
Gouty or Henry the Impotent in the hierarchy of unflattering medieval
royal nicknames, but Alfonso earned respect in other ways.25 Still a
teenager, the young king found himself at war and in need of support.
He summoned representatives not only from traditional power centers
such as the bishops and the aristocracy but also from the urban middle
class. Cities supplied a spokesperson—usually without a birthright—

30
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
for their community’s views. In 1188, the cortes of Léon met for the
first time, and agreed upon a slate of legal codes that constrained the
king’s power but created a shared sense of governance from groups that
had previously been mere subjects of royal authority. This was arguably
the first modern parliament.26
â•… With the slobberer showing the way, parliaments spread. They all
lacked teeth. When push came to shove, kings reigned supreme over
the people’s representatives. That all changed during the English Civil
War in 1649, as the people of England ended that era of royal suprem-
acy by severing Charles I’s head with an axe. Sentenced to die, the king
approached the execution platform in two heavy shirts so as to ensure
that the crowd would not confuse his shivering for fear. Then, he pro-
claimed, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown,” politely
asked the executioner, “is my hair well?” and met his bloody end.27
â•… The execution of King Charles ushered in parliamentary sover-
eignty, and marked the beginning of the end of ruling monarchs in
England. Though the United Kingdom of Great Britain came into being
sixty years after the execution, the monarch increasingly became side-
lined, subjugated and replaced by the will of (representatives of) the
people. This was, of course, a process that took time. The balance of
power was still being recalibrated under the reign of King George III,
who, in the late eighteenth century, witnessed the birth of the world’s
most consequential democratic experiment from his throne across the
Atlantic Ocean.
â•… The story of America’s democratic birth is well known. What is less
well known and often lost in the popular mythology is how suspicious
the Founding Fathers were of democracy as a concept. This was clear
from the proceedings themselves, which were conducted with utmost
secrecy behind closed doors. During the Constitutional Convention,
George Washington chastised his peers after one delegate dropped his
notes on the floor: “I must entreat Gentlemen to be more careful, lest
our transactions get into the News Papers, and disrupt the public
repose by premature speculations.”28 Had they been allowed in, the
reporters from the “News Papers” would have likely reported discus-
sions where “democracy” was considered a bad word. They preferred
to call it a “republic.”
â•… James Madison, one of the pre-eminent architects of American
democracy, felt democracy in the Athenian sense would be a recipe for

31
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
disaster. In Federalist Paper Number 10, he argued: “Democracies have
ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been
found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property;
and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent
in their deaths.”29
â•… Yet, 240 years later, America is still the world’s most successful
democracy. Clearly, the framers got something right. Most scholars of
democracy would agree that the United States’ innovation with regard
to institutionalized constitutional checks and balances was a major step
forward in representative democratic government. Even at its core,
though, some contemporaries considered constitutions to be an anti-
democratic constraint, as the majority in one generation was pre-
committing the next to sets of rules and regulations that would effec-
tively ensure that majority rule could not always be carried out.30
Ultimately, though, this was the right choice, as the constitution has
been a powerful tool for ensuring that the majoritarian pendulum does
not end up being a wrecking ball for democracy in times of crisis,
when popular opinion is at its most malleable.
â•… Yet, there should be no illusions: early American democracy was
neither a “pure” nor an inclusive democracy. Women could not vote.
Slaves, who were considered property, could not either. In fact, slaves
were a particular bone of contention at the convention, because popu-
lation figures were to be used to determine apportionment of seats in
the Congress and also to divide up tax obligations by state. Ironically,
then, northern states that tended to find slavery an unsavory institu-
tion argued that people of African descent were not full persons, or at
least should not be considered as such for the purposes of the consti-
tution. Southerners argued the opposite, insisting on the humanity
and personhood of their slaves. The dispute was resolved by the infa-
mous “three-fifths compromise,” which held that population figures
would be counted “excluding Indians not taxed, [and] three fifths of
all other Persons.”31
â•… With that horrifying detail out of the way, the Convention turned to
figuring out how to set up a legislative body. The Great Compromise,
also known as the Connecticut Compromise, dealt with the seemingly
unresolvable dispute over representation between large and small
states. Under the solution, the upper house of Congress—the Senate—

32
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
would be comprised of two representatives from each state, while the
lower house—the House of Representatives—would have seats pro-
portionally allocated according to population. Keep in mind, however,
that until the Seventeenth Amendment was enacted in 1913, the Senate
was elected by state legislatures rather than by citizens directly. Non-
white men were given the right to vote in 1870; women secured that
hard-fought right in 1920. Congress adopted further protections to
ensure Native Americans had the right to vote in 1924. Protections for
other minorities (particularly African-Americans) were passed in 1965.
American democracy was and is, as all political systems are, a living
work in progress.
â•… Shortly after the American model was built in Philadelphia, the
French established their rival model in Paris, ushered in by the grue-
some sound of the guillotine. When the blood dried, France had built
a new, albeit shaky, democracy across the channel from the parliamen-
tary United Kingdom. However, democracy was not just enlisted for
people in Europe and the United States. In the 1800s, thousands of
miles from Philadelphia, Paris, and London, democracy began to take
root in the southern hemisphere for the first time.
â•… Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Latin America, spoke of democracy
in the region in unflattering terms, saying, “We elect monarchs whom
we call presidents.”32 He was referring to the rise of the caudillos, the
Latin American strongmen and the early adopters who figured out how
to use counterfeit democracy as a populist weapon to wield power
throughout the region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
â•… There were, of course, some genuinely democratic elements to
these regimes. For example, in the Colombian province of Vélez, women
were granted the right to vote in 1853—more than fifteen years before
the first American state (Wyoming).33 Unfortunately, the Colombian
Supreme Court struck down the provision before women of Vélez ever
voted, but democratic sentiments were spreading across Latin America,
even if they were often limited in practice.
â•… These bright spots were pinpricks of light in the darker shroud of
a brutal form of early counterfeit democracy. Caudillos were ready
and willing to use violence to get their way, often bullying and—if
necessary—slaughtering indigenous peoples in the process. Few
were as effective at using the language and trappings of democracy in

33
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
support of an authoritarian agenda as the Argentine caudillo, Juan
Manuel de Rosas.
â•… Rosas, the Red Despot of Buenos Aires, ruled like a dictator but
cloaked himself as a man of the people, sworn to bring democracy to
Argentina. As many future autocratic wolves in the wool’s clothing of
democrats would mimic, Rosas used fraudulent elections to legitimize
this image. The elections were a joke. As is usually the case in counter-
feit democracies, the voting looked good from the outside. All free
men over the age of twenty had the legal right to vote—a compara-
tively open arrangement for its time in the early nineteenth century.
There were no literacy or property qualifications. People were free to
pick from a slate of candidates.
â•… All of this was, however, carefully managed. Rosas handpicked the
slate of candidates. Justices of the peace were sent to ensure that the
“right” candidates won. Voting was done verbally and openly, so state
officials could use intense intimidation to ensure that nobody voted
against the approved list. In the March 1835 election, Rosas won
99.96€per cent of the vote. Four people were reported to have voted
against him and I cannot imagine they found the aftermath of doing so
pleasant.34 Rosas used this illusion of a popular mandate to get his way,
at times ruthlessly. But this innovation—of wielding the veil of democ-
racy as a weapon to masquerade as a man of the people—was made
even more dangerous by the same defense of despots that continues to
derail democracy today: that they bring stability.
â•… Rosas presented himself as a force that transformed lawlessness into
law and order. He eschewed criticisms of his authoritarian rule by
pointing to the success of his harsh tactics in reducing crime, and
Western observers bought into the narrative. William MacCann, an
Irish doctor who rode through Los Pampas of Argentina in 1851,
applauded Rosas, saying that criminals were “sure to suffer the extreme
penalty of their crimes, [but] robbery and outrage are almost
unknown.”35 That basic formula—of a dictator first using democracy to
pretend to be a man of the people, and then deflecting criticism by
pointing to the virtues of stability and order instead—would be a suc-
cessful tactic to secure Western backing for the next 165 years. The
illusion of democracy, it turned out, could be used as a very powerful
weapon domestically and abroad.

34
A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY
â•… It also turned out that weapons could be used by democracies in sup-
port of democracy. Sixty-five years after Rosas was eventually toppled in
Argentina,Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of the US Congress
and called for the country’s involvement in the Great War. His grand
argument, a novel one at the time, was that “the world must be made safe
for democracy.”36 He put forth this argument as a principled ideology, a
stand for an idea rather than for self-interest, proclaiming: “We seek no
indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices
we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of
mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as
secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”
â•… Less than a year later, Wilson followed up that speech with another,
the Fourteen Points, which incorporated the notions of democracy and
self-determination for colonized peoples into American foreign policy.
For the first time, a major international power had made it an explicitly
stated goal to pollenate democracy abroad.37
â•… There were, of course, democratic success stories in the twentieth
century advanced by Western intervention and support. The tragedy of
World War II eventually gave rise to two international pillars of demo�
cracy, Germany and Japan. But regardless of the overall historical
Â�verdict on Wilson’s ideals, the ethos of those speeches permeated
American foreign policy, at least rhetorically, for the next 100 years.
As we approach the centenary of the “make the world safe for democ-
racy” speech, two watershed moments stand out in the extension of
Wilson’s self-righteous view.
â•… In 1963, only a few months before his assassination, Democratic
President John F. Kennedy spoke to throngs of Berliners (the people,
€

not the jam doughnuts) about the promise of democracy at one of the
tensest moments in the Cold War. “Freedom has many difficulties and
democracy is not perfect,” he said, “but we have never had to put a wall
up to keep our people in.”38
â•… Twenty-five years later, President Reagan also spoke of walls, with
doors embedded in them that were open to the people of the world
yearning for freedom, as he repeatedly invoked the image of America
as a shining “City on a Hill.” In Reagan’s rhetoric, America was a bea-
con, not only an example of democratic prosperity, but a friend to
democracies around the world.

35
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… Unfortunately, for the people of countries caught in the grip of Cold
War rivalry—particularly in the era between Kennedy and Reagan—
America did not always act as a friend to democracy. Rhetoric and
reality were divided. From Iran to the Congo or Chile, the Cold War
era crystallized a trend that was difficult to buck: when push came to
shove, the strategic imperative to deal a blow to the Soviet Union
always trumped Wilsonian idealism. Democracy, it seemed, would have
to wait.

36
2

SPOOKING DEMOCRACY

In the past, the West has occasionally actively undermined democratic


governments, setting up “our” despots in their place abroad as a strate-
gic weapon against the Soviet Union, for instance. During the Cold
War, the spread and retreat of global democracy often took place in the
shadows, as the real-life James Bonds in Western intelligence services
played a pivotal role in overthrowing or supporting democratically
elected regimes.
â•… Western foreign policy was far more myopic during the East-West,
Soviet-American showdown than it is today. In order to understand
modern pitfalls in the realm of spreading and supporting democracy
elsewhere, it is crucial to understand the checkered history of the con-
cept. During the Cold War, a friendly pro-West dictatorship was typi-
cally preferred to an unfriendly pro-Soviet democracy. In pursuit of
that foreign policy, the West was willing to take such extreme measures
to ensure that nations did not end up in the communist camp that the
action needed to be covert.
â•… Fascinatingly, Washington was sometimes more worried about
democratically elected leaders who gravitated toward the Soviet Union
than about autocrats who did the same. After all, pro-Soviet dictators
could be explained away as corrupt despots who set their foreign pol-
icy with evil empires against the will of the people. But if a democrati-
cally elected leader tilted away from Washington and toward Moscow,

37
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
it would be hard to argue that the leader was illegitimate. It would also
provide a pro-Soviet democratic model for other states to follow suit.
As a result, in some diplomatic circles, it was clear that Western gov-
ernments could not allow any flourishing of democracy in a place that
sympathized with the USSR.
â•… This foreign policy priority had devastating results for the peoples
of Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chile during the
1950s, 1960s, and 1970s respectively.
â•… Typically, when the West intervenes against democracy abroad, there
is usually one of three justifications involved: economic self-interest,
ideology, or stability and security.
â•… In 1953, the West saw Iran threatening all three. The elected prime
minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian
Oil Company (the precursor to BP) in 1951, provoking extreme
anger, as this threatened the economic interests of the London estab-
lishment.1 The American government saw no reason to weigh in one
way or another—until, that is, the British made the highly dubious
accusation that Mossadegh was rapidly tilting toward the Soviet
Union. The clear implication was that if Washington did not intervene,
Iran would soon be communist and a Soviet ally.2 The seed of that idea
was sufficient to flip President Eisenhower, who subsequently saw Iran
as a major emerging threat in his quest for ideological “containment”.
Finally, Mossadegh’s bold move against its former colonizer’s oil stake
served as a possible model for others in the crumbling Empire to
emulate; inaction against Iran, the British believed, would lead to a
series of nationalizations, uprisings, and volatility in each of Britain’s
colonial jewels. Such a doomsday scenario was perceived as a critical
security threat, at least as much as an economic or ideological one. In
Washington and London, it was agreed: something had to be done to
take out Mossadegh.
â•… The intelligence operation the two powers hatched still reverberates
in Iran’s broken relations with the West six decades later. It was code-
named Operation Ajax—an inadvertently appropriate reference to the
mythical scorned warrior who went mad in the face of a democratic
vote for a valuable prize.3
â•… The man responsible for Operation Ajax was an unlikely character.
On 19 June 1953, Kermit Roosevelt—the grandson of former American
€

38
SPOOKING DEMOCRACY
president Teddy Roosevelt—slipped across the Iranian border under
the pseudonym “James Lockridge.”4 He was charged with a mission: to
overthrow the democratically elected Mossadegh, and install a pro-
London, pro-Washington puppet instead.
â•… Bags of cash in tow, Roosevelt began orchestrating a systematic cam-
paign to provoke a coup. The CIA Art Group began producing anti-
Mossadegh cartoons. Newspaper editors and media officials were paid
off, with one editor receiving the startling sum of $45,000 to play ball.
By the CIA’s own estimation, in the weeks and months preceding the
implementation of Operation Ajax, they controlled or held sway with
80 per cent of Iranian media outlets.5
€

â•… Beyond propaganda, the CIA also spent heavily to ensure the sup-
port of key political figures. $135,000 was dished out to General
Fazlollah Zahedi, the CIA’s handpicked successor, ready to pick up
the pieces and become prime minister once Mossadegh was top-
€

pled. $11,000 per week was allocated for bribing members of Iran’s
€

flawed but nonetheless somewhat democratic parliament, the Majlis.


Washington’s deep pockets bought a lot of influence.
â•… As this was a covert action, secrecy was paramount. If anyone in
Mossadegh’s loyal inner circle discovered the existence of a plot, the
plot could not only fail, it could backfire and provoke even more
aggressive anti-Western Iranian foreign policy. This was a delicate bal-
ance fraught with risk.
â•… By his own account, Roosevelt nearly blew the mission’s cover on
multiple occasions, exclaiming “Oh, Roosevelt!” when he missed shots
during regular tennis matches held at the Turkish embassy. When asked
to explain why a man named Lockridge had developed such a strange
curse phrase, he coolly replied that any self-respecting Republican would
do the same given the hideous presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.6
â•… But Roosevelt’s boyish exclamations belied a much more sinister
plot. With the cooperation of the Shah, the CIA obtained two firmans,
royal decrees that would be used to provide legitimacy to the post-
coup government. The plot was set in motion.
â•… The idea was simple. A cohort of troops loyal to the anointed suc-
cessor would travel first to the home of the military commander,
General Riahi, and arrest him, then to Mossadegh’s house, where they
would do the same. With both men in custody, the dissolution of the

39
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
government was to be announced, followed immediately by the proc-
lamation of the Shah installing General Fazlollah as a replacement
prime minister. Roosevelt had selected a mid-ranking officer, Colonel
Nasiri, as the man for the job. He would lead the column of troops and
instigate the coup.
â•… On the night of 15 August 1953, the coup plotters arrived at
€

General Riahi’s home. Nobody was there. This should have raised red
flags, but Colonel Nasiri thought little of it and stuck to the plan,
directing his troops to continue to the next waypoint: the home of the
democratically elected prime minister. Little did they know that
General Riahi had been tipped off and was himself leading a cohort of
troops—at the exact same time—to Mossadegh’s house to protect him
and arrest the disloyal plotters.
â•… While all this was unfolding, Roosevelt and his colleagues were in a
safe house celebrating what seemed to be a surefire victory. They drank
expensive imported vodka and sang Broadway show tunes. They belted
out “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls, hoping that luck
would be on their side rather than on the side of Iranian democracy.7
â•… Two columns of troops raced toward Mossadegh. The government
would survive if Riahi arrived first; it would fall if Nasiri arrived first.
Unfortunately for Roosevelt and the CIA, Nasiri came a close second,
beaten to the punch by General Riahi and his loyal entourage. When
the CIA’s proxy force showed up, they were arrested. The plot had
failed. Mossadegh took to the airwaves shortly thereafter, triumphantly
announced that an insidious coup plot—launched by the Shah in coordi-
nation with “foreign elements”—had been foiled. After hearing the
broadcast, the Shah roused his family, hopped into the personal airplane
that he himself routinely piloted, and set a course for Baghdad. All
seemed to be lost. Mossadegh would remain in power. The Shah was
disgraced, fleeing into exile. Suspicion fell heavily (and correctly) upon
the notion that the “foreign elements” concerned were a scorned West,
angry to fight back against nationalization of their economic assets.
â•… CIA orders to Roosevelt grudgingly accepted Operation Ajax’s fail-
ure, advising him, “If you’re in a jam, get out so you don’t get killed.
But if you’re not in a jam, go ahead and do what you have to do.”8
Roosevelt decided to work his way out of the jam. First, he distributed
$50,000 to buy the participation of an unruly ragtag mob to pose as

40
SPOOKING DEMOCRACY
angry supporters of Mossadegh. The aim was to use provocateurs to
create blowback against the regime. As they reached the main square
in Tehran, they began to get out of control, rioting and shouting slogans
against the widely popular Shah. Authentic anti-Shah elements, particu-
larly from the communist-allied Tudeh Party, spontaneously joined the
demonstrations, further playing into the CIA’s hands. Showing some of
his democratic stripes, Mossadegh ordered the police and armed forces
to allow them to demonstrate. Ironically, this liberal gesture would
initiate the spiral that led to his downfall.
â•… The protests sharply divided Tehran, creating the polarized atmo-
sphere that the CIA knew would be most ripe for a coup. With popular
opinion turning against Mossadegh as a result of the CIA-manufactured
mob rioting against the Shah, it was now time to orchestrate its
inverse—a CIA-manufactured mob rioting in the Shah’s favor.
â•… But this was not to be any old mob. It was a literal circus. The CIA,
with the help of key Iranian agents, had identified low-income street
performers and athletes to be the protest’s vanguard. Broad-chested
weightlifters marched alongside acrobats and jugglers.9 Many wielded
clubs. Others wielded knives. Some—the jugglers in particular—per-
formed, tossing pins into the air while the mob danced around them.
At the edges of the mob, thugs waved ten rial notes to onlookers. The
ranks quickly swelled to thousands, marching as they chanted, “Long
Live the Shah!” Soon, the circus-like atmosphere morphed into a seri-
ous threat. Soldiers began to join the thronging crowd, adding tanks
and an official veneer to the demonstration. This created a tipping
point; it was time to put the final act of Operation Ajax into motion.
â•… Anti-Mossadegh soldiers, including many that had been paid off by
the CIA, raced yet again toward Mossadegh’s house to arrest him.
Other loyalists had already sensed the turning tide and had barricaded
themselves inside, ready to defend their prime minister to the death.
The assault began late on 19 August, and sporadic but fierce fighting
€

left the streets outside Mossadegh’s home covered in blood. Mossadegh


fled after a single tank shell exploded into his house, but he was cap-
tured and detained shortly thereafter. The Shah, who had been waiting
in Rome to see how things unfolded before returning to the country
he purported to rule, flew back to Tehran accompanied by CIA director
Alan Dulles. Democracy had been subjugated. General Fazlollah

41
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
became the government’s new chief, backed by the authoritarian and
hereditary Shah. “Our” autocrat was in place.
â•… The plot continues to poison Iranian-American relations to this day.
Scholars struggle to explain the 1979 Iranian Revolution without con-
sidering it at least partly as a response to the 1953 coup. But this inci-
dent also shows a broader pattern during the Cold War: when the
spread of communism seemed possible, democracy was a distant sec-
ondary concern. Hard-nosed geopolitical pragmatism inevitably trumped
democratic idealism. On the Cold War chessboard, the loss of pawns
in the Third World (like Iran) was viewed as an unacceptable blow, one
that would ensure the ruthless advance of the existential threat posed
by the rival and aggressive queen moving freely about the board, the
Soviet Union. The chess masters in the West let their cynical minds
ignore the beating of their democratic hearts as they manipulated the
board to their advantage around the world.
â•… The Cold War chessboard extended everywhere. The West’s moves
were particularly important in Africa in 1960, just seven years after the
CIA plot had toppled Mossadegh in Iran. Sixteen former African colonies
became independent states in 1960 alone, and nobody knew how they
would situate themselves in global politics. One of them was the former
Belgian Congo, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo after
breaking with its colonial masters in Brussels. In May, the country held
its first democratic elections. Men over the age of twenty-one cast bal-
lots, selecting 137 Congolese leaders to constitute the country’s first
elected Chamber of Representatives. This was a sharp break from its
colonial past; it ushered in an optimistic euphoria that was simultane-
ously sweeping across the continent from Senegal to Somalia.
â•… The real winner of the elections was Patrice Lumumba, a former
traveling beer salesman and postal worker who was elected to be the
nation’s first prime minister after his party won over voters. Before
later changing his name, Lumumba had been born with the surname
Okit’Asombo, or “heir of the cursed”, with Okit’ meaning “heir” and
Asombo referring to “cursed or bewitched people who will die
quickly.”10 The prophetic patronymic was to be fulfilled shortly after
Lumumba ascended to power.
â•… The wave of independence in Africa forced each new nation to
choose its orientation: West, East, or neither. Would Lumumba gravi-

42
SPOOKING DEMOCRACY
tate toward the Soviet Union or the United States? Or, would he try to
walk a non-alignment tightrope between each, playing a savvy game to
exploit maximum concessions and sponsorship from both?
â•… Lumumba made a fateful decision early on when he faced an insur-
rection in Katanga province during the transition to Congo’s indepen-
dence. Backed into a corner, he approached the Soviet Union and asked
them to provide him with weapons, food, and medical supplies. A
thousand Soviet advisers arrived almost immediately. For Washington,
this was clear evidence: Lumumba was a communist sympathizer who
could set a dangerous precedent for other newly independent former
colonies.11 For Belgium, Lumumba seemed dangerously eager to dis-
tance Congo from its former colonial power—and their intertwined
interests. In a variety of Western capitals, it was agreed: the democrati-
cally elected Congolese prime minister needed to go, so that the
Congo would become an ally of the democratic West.
â•… Rather than making the world “safe for democracy”, the CIA—likely
in conjunction with SIS, the British overseas spy service popularly known
as MI6—yet again hatched a plot to eliminate an elected head of state in
pursuit of competing security interests. Unlike Mossadegh, who had
been placed under house arrest after being toppled, Larry Devlin, the
CIA station chief in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), received orders to kill
Lumumba. In pursuit of that goal, President Eisenhower authorized a
covert operation to provide Devlin with a poisoned tube of toothpaste,
which local operatives were to slip into Lumumba’s bathroom.12
â•… The toothpaste arrived in Léopoldville, but it was never used.
Devlin later said that he tossed it into the Congo River, discarding it
because it was no longer necessary.13 Lumumba, fearing for his life and
realizing that the West was conspiring against him, had fled. Soldiers
loyal to an ambitious mid-level officer, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, used
intelligence gleaned from the Americans, Belgians, or British, and
quickly captured Lumumba.
â•… Lumumba was arrested and beaten publicly on 17 January 1961,
€

almost exactly seven months after he had been elected by the people of
the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After the public beating,
Lumumba was strapped in place on an airplane and flown to Elizabethville
(now Lumumbashi). Katangan and Belgian officers tortured him, trans-
ported him to an isolated spot in the countryside, and executed him

43
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
with a firing squad while Belgian officials looked on. The Belgian
report noted with characteristic matter-of-factness that he had been
executed between 9:40 and 9:43pm local time.14 Careful to ensure
that his body would never be discovered, the Belgians and Katangans
worked together to dispose of his remains. Lumumba’s body was dis-
membered, his bones dissolved in sulfuric acid.15 The stench was so
bad that the Belgians drank whiskey trying to cope; they got drunk as
they dissolved Lumumba’s body.16 The promise of democracy in
Congo also dissipated that night, as Colonel Mobutu would eventually
ascend to power in a coup, only to rule the country as a megalomaniac
dictator for nearly four decades. He fleeced the devastatingly impov-
erished country, flying in lunches from Paris on Concorde jets while
crushing all political opposition with a ruthless iron fist. Congolese
democracy has never recovered.
â•… This is, of course, not to say that the Democratic Republic of the
Congo would have lived up to its democratic namesake without
Western intervention. The young Congolese state may have turned
equally despotic under Soviet influence. Democracy was imperiled
across Africa at the same time even in the absence of Western manipu-
lation. Therefore, while it is naïve to believe that interventions and
plots by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium derailed
a democratic system that would otherwise have flourished, the
Western-backed assassination of Lumumba certainly did usher one of
Africa’s worst despots into power.
â•… The Congolese and Iranian cases were spawned by the same myopia:
Western diplomats in this era tended to sport blinders that kept their
focus on anti-Soviet containment. This created a paradox: while
Western (and particularly American) leadership regularly spoke of the
virtues of democracy compared to the vices of communism, they were
simultaneously willing to go further than ever to topple unfriendly
democratic regimes across the globe.
â•… During the Nixon years, however, this patchwork foreign policy
strategy took on stunning coherence under a new architect, Secretary
of State Henry Kissinger. As a German Jew born in Bavaria during the
Weimar Republic, Kissinger was fifteen years old when his family fled
the burgeoning Nazi regime. They escaped to New York by way of
London. Kissinger then returned to Germany in an American uniform,

44
SPOOKING DEMOCRACY
serving as a counterintelligence sergeant during the Allied advance
through his former homeland—when German language-speakers were
at their highest premium. After the war, Kissinger established himself
as a shrewd scholar of international affairs at Harvard, and landed him-
self a job within the highest echelons of the United States government,
first as National Security Adviser, and later as America’s top diplomat,
the Secretary of State.17
â•… Kissinger’s vision for foreign policy revolved around realpolitik, an
amoral approach to diplomacy that stressed state interests and power
over ideology or principle. The development of democracies abroad
was, in Kissinger’s view, sometimes a bonus, but certainly not a critical
interest for the United States. This view was hugely influential during
the presidencies of Richard Nixon and his successor, Gerald Ford, as
Kissinger had the ear of both men.
â•… While Kissinger is perhaps best known for his role in the Vietnam
War, he is equally infamous—at least in Latin America—for his cynical
strategy to rid Chile of its democratically elected socialist leader,
Salvador Allende. The aim was to replace Allende with a pro-Western
leader, a strongman who could do Washington’s bidding rather than
giving the Soviet Union another foothold in the vicinity of Cuba.
â•… Just eight days after the democratic election ushered Allende into
power, President Nixon met with Kissinger. At the conclusion of the
short meeting, Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream,”
as a means of conditioning Chile for an eventual coup d’état.18 This
economic sabotage accompanied another stream of CIA activity in
Chile, as Washington tried to stop Allende from ever taking power by
blocking his inauguration. To do so, a CIA-backed operation success-
fully assassinated the Chilean commander-in-chief of the armed forces,
General René Schneider, but to no avail.19 Allende was inaugurated and
continued down his socialist path, which was deemed an unacceptable
provocation toward NATO interests in the Western hemisphere.
â•… In an illuminating document (since declassified), Kissinger’s ratio-
nale for intervention in Chile shows how these issues can be debated at
the highest levels of Western government. They are not taken lightly, as
some conspiracy theorists might suggest, but are instead the carefully
thought-out strategies of competing interests with the highest stakes
imaginable.

45
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… “The election of Allende as president of Chile poses for us one of the
most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere,” Kissinger wrote
to Nixon. “Your decision as to what to do about it may be the most
historic and difficult foreign affairs decision you will make this year.”20
Kissinger stressed, of course, that a billion dollars of US investments
was at stake, but was more worried about the effects that Chile could
have on other similarly placed nations across the globe. To that end, he
warned Nixon that there could be an “insidious model effect,” as there
would be no way to undermine Allende’s legitimacy after his demo-
cratic election—precisely the route to power that Washington vocally
supported in the lofty and idealistic rhetoric routinely broadcast from
the White House. A pro-Soviet democratic success story in the Western
hemisphere was intolerable. Either the regime had to fall, or it had to
be made to fail. Otherwise, Kissinger warned, “The example of a suc-
cessful elected Marxist government in Chile would surely have an
impact on—and even precedent value for—other parts of the world.”
Even as he was strongly urging Nixon to covertly depose Allende,
Kissinger’s memo noted: “Allende was elected legally, the first Marxist
government ever to come to power by free elections. He has legiti-
macy in the eyes of Chileans and most of the world; there is nothing
we can do to deny him that legitimacy or claim he does not have it.”21
â•… Yet there were dissenters who believed that Kissinger was overstat-
ing the Chilean threat. Viron Vaky, a top deputy to Kissinger, wrote a
classified memo to him suggesting that the plan to overthrow Allende
was not only likely to provoke “widespread violence and even insurrec-
tion,” but that it was also deeply immoral. “What we propose is patently
a violation of our own principles and policy tenets… If these principles
have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the
gravest threat to us, e.g. to our survival. Is Allende a mortal threat to
the US? It is hard to argue this.”22
â•… Vaky’s words, written in 1973, echo my overarching argument in
this book. There is, of course, a calibration that needs to be made
between core short-term geostrategic interests that cannot be ignored
and the long-term ambition to shape the world into a more stable,
prosperous, and democratic place where people have a meaningful say
in their governance. Vaky believed that the calibration in Kissinger’s
diplomatic strategy had been badly skewed, assessing minor threats as

46
SPOOKING DEMOCRACY
major ones, conflating annoyance with existential risk. Where to draw
this line is a difficult question, but in hindsight, most contemporary
scholars, policymakers, and diplomats would agree that Kissinger was
the architect of a plot in Chile that overstepped the appropriate bounds
of Western foreign policy.
â•… Kissinger, however, was under no illusions. This was going to be a
coup to remove democracy from a nation that, as he saw it, had fool-
ishly brought intervention on itself. As Kissinger explained in yet
another classified memo: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and
watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own
people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be
left to decide for themselves.”23
â•… Like the actions in Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
that preceded it, the CIA mission in Chile was a covert attempt to
undermine a sovereign and democratically elected leader. Like the
others, it succeeded.
â•… The CIA, with direct backing from President Nixon, began to reach
out to military officers within Chile, threatening to withdraw all mili-
tary aid if a coup didn’t happen, but offering to pour further resources
into Chile if a coup did take place. It paid off political opponents of
Allende, financing them to organize destabilizing mass protests and
strikes. Anti-Allende propaganda was spread throughout Chile, notably
by buying influence with a major newspaper, El Mercurio.24
â•… On 11 September 1973, the covert action paid off. The coup took
€

place in a matter of hours. Dozens were killed in fighting. Cornered,


President Allende shot himself with an AK-47, and with a single gun-
shot, ended democracy in Chile for the next seventeen years. Kissinger
had achieved his goal, and lamented in a private phone call with
President Nixon that the West would not be able to publicly take credit
for its covert role in the coup.
â•… While Kissinger may have overstated the threat that Chile posed to
Western interests, it is hard to overstate the damage wrought by the
CIA-backed coup. In just a month after taking power, General Augusto
Pinochet killed thousands of leftists who had supported Allende. These
killings were ordered directly by the regime. The “Caravana de la
Muerte” (Caravan of Death) was established as a targeted vengeful
death squad, killing ninety-seven people in the span of less than a

47
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
month after the coup.25 40,000 members of the political opposition
were imprisoned in Chile’s national stadium. Torture was rampant.
â•… Pinochet’s military regime was terribly despotic, repressive, and
damaging. The West was integral not only to its arrival in power but
also to its longevity; the CIA continued to put key regime figures on its
payroll, including the head of Chile’s notorious secret police force, the
DINA.26 Such people were effectively used not only to marshal Chilean
politics away from the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but also to encourage
a resumption of key American business interests, such as Anaconda
Copper or General Motors operations in the country.
â•… All three camps of objectives were therefore achieved. Chile’s
economy continued to act in favor of, rather than against, Western
economic interests. In ideological terms, Pinochet was firmly in the
West’s camp, and spoke disparagingly of the Soviet Union and its sym-
pathizers within Chile. And the security dimension was no longer a
threat, as the “insidious model” of an “elected Marxist government” had
been toppled, serving more as a warning to other states than a model
to be followed. On the criteria with which Kissinger evaluated foreign
policy, realpolitik, the coup in Chile was a resounding success.
â•… Today, Chile has turned a page and is a thriving democracy. Since the
return of democracy in the late 1980s, Chile’s economy has soared,
outpacing virtually every other economy in Latin America (other than
Uruguay, which is the only other country in the region that is consid-
ered a fully consolidated democracy). In other words, the short-term
success of the West’s policy in authoritarian Chile overshadowed
decades of lost long-term potential that has finally shown itself under
a fledgling democratic state. We still don’t know how much potential
has been lost in Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
because neither is a functioning democracy.
â•… This introduces the difficult rub at the heart of the democracy pro-
motion paradox. The West has been stubbornly reluctant to promote
democracy unless it perceives it to serve its short-term strategic inter-
ests. However, when short-term national interests override long-term
considerations, then democratic principles routinely fall by the wayside
as a result of competing geopolitical ambitions. In Iran, Congo, and
Chile, the democratic principles articulated by Wilson and echoed by
every president since were undercut by the prismatic view of global

48
SPOOKING DEMOCRACY
politics during the Cold War struggle. The dictatorial devil on our side
seemed better than the democratic devil on theirs. It was a misguided
and shortsighted approach.
â•… The Cold War is, of course, over. The tactics of CIA toothpaste plots
have largely fallen by the wayside too. In the majority of instances,
Western efforts to support democracy abroad have emerged from the
shadows, either through overt military action (in Iraq, Afghanistan, or
Libya), rather than covert plots, or through technical assistance from
government-funded entities, such as the American overseas develop-
ment funding organization, USAID.
â•… However, old habits can sometimes die hard, and Cold War politics
can re-emerge in bizarre forms. In 2010, less than five years before
American president Barack Obama took the historic step of shaking
hands with Cuban president Raul Castro and six years before his his-
toric visit to Havana, Washington developed a creative throwback to an
earlier era when Cuba was one the leading bogeymen of the Cold War.
The 2010 plan was a bit more sophisticated than poisoned toothpaste
(or the infamous botched “exploding cigar” plan tried against Fidel
Castro half a century earlier), but it was nonetheless aimed at provok-
ing insurrection in Cuba.
â•… Joe McSpedon, a US government official with USAID, worked on a
secret program to create a Twitter-like social media platform called
ZunZuneo (a Cuban colloquialism for the sound of a hummingbird’s
tweet). This Cuban Twitter would lure in users with soccer scores,
music reviews, and hurricane updates. But then, once a critical mass of
young Cubans was using the platform, the app developers envisioned
using it to provoke a “smart mob” during times of crisis. The idea was
to drastically exacerbate unrest during any time of political volatility,
funneling anti-government messages to young people rather than keep-
ing them up-to-date on the Manchester City vs. Arsenal score.27
â•… However, unlike previous initiatives against Mossadegh, Lumumba,
or Allende, this effort was aimed at ushering in democratic change to a
country that had long avoided democratic rule. The stated aim of the
ZunZuneo project was to “get the transition process going again
towards democratic change.”28
â•… In March 2011, ZunZuneo had attracted 40,000 active users. A year
later, the service was discontinued. USAID claimed that the covert app

49
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
disappeared because funding ran out, but there are suspicions that its
true nature was uncovered and deemed a risk to American public rela-
tions at a time when US-Cuban relations were beginning to show signs
of a thaw.
â•… This intervention in Cuba offers two lessons. First, diplomatic his-
tory casts a long shadow: tiny Cuba continued to be perceived as a
disproportionate threat in Washington for decades beyond the Cuban
Missile Crisis. Second, modern-day diplomacy aimed at promoting
democracy around the world has not completely dissociated itself from
bizarre plots straight out of a James Bond film, a sort of misguided
GoldenHashtag sequel to Goldeneye or Goldfinger.
â•… Yet in all the cases mentioned above, from Iran to the Democratic
Republic of Congo to Chile or Cuba, the perceived threat was exagger-
ated and overblown. As Viron Vaky argued in 1973, Chile did not pose an
existential threat to the United States and it was not necessary to perpe-
trate such an egregious act of unprincipled diplomacy. The same was, of
course, true in Cuba during 2011. These were not truly vital interests.
â•… However, such disproportionate missteps are easy pickings for crit-
ics of Western foreign policy. Sure, Washington did not act admirably
at all times during the Cold War. That is not exactly a revelation. The
more difficult and important question, however, lies at the core of a
central dilemma in democracy promotion: how can the West actively
promote democracy when it so often conflicts directly with core eco-
nomic or security interests of Western governments? This is an excep-
tionally difficult question, and the debate to which we now turn. To
begin, we must navigate a tricky foreign policy minefield by traveling
back in time to Pakistan in 2002, as the United States decides whether
to support a post-coup military regime in order to improve the odds
of capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden and his associates.

50
3

TUNNEL VISION

Principle 1:Think long-term


Promoting democracy consistently is not easy. It requires tough choices
and a truly long-term vision in a system that rewards short-term think-
ing. But far-sighted thinking can pay big dividends.
â•… The morning of 12 October 1999 began like any other Tuesday
€

morning in Pakistan. It ended with a different government in power, as


General Pervez Musharraf toppled the elected civilian prime minister,
Nawaz Sharif.1 That morning, General Musharraf was in Sri Lanka,
when word leaked to him that Prime Minister Sharif and Pakistan’s
intelligence chief, General Ziauddin, were plotting to force Musharraf
into an early retirement, sidelining him for good. Musharraf immedi-
ately hopped on a Pakistan International Airlines flight back to Karachi,
and set the wheels in motion on a coup plot to sideline the prime
minister and his inner circle instead.2
â•… As soon as Pakistani intelligence detected troops emerging from the
barracks and got word that Musharraf was returning to Karachi, Prime
Minister Sharif ordered air traffic control to divert the plane, forcing it
to land in Nawabshah, 275 kilometers northeast of Karachi. The presi-
dent’s security team would be waiting to arrest Musharraf. The plane
was not given permission to land and was told to re-direct.3
â•… Musharraf’s contingent of troops surrounded air traffic control, and
Musharraf himself entered the flight deck and spoke directly to the

51
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
controllers on the ground, demanding permission to land. Air traffic
controllers finally agreed as soldiers approached their tower. It was just
in the nick of time, as the circling jet was down to just seven minutes’
worth of fuel in its tank—which would have been harrowing news to
the more than 200 civilians on board at the time. Shortly after landing,
Musharraf dismissed Prime Minister Sharif and successfully took power
in a military coup.4
â•… Democracy, which was already flawed in Pakistan, disappeared.
Under a state of emergency, Musharraf’s regime detained political
prisoners without charge, banned public rallies, and made political
parties impotent. Rana Sanaullah Khan, a government critic, was
whipped, beaten, and tortured in custody.5 This was unsurprising; mili-
tary regimes are not bastions of good governance or human rights.
They are also rarely counterfeit democrats. It’s one of their very few
virtues. With military despotism, what you see is usually what you get.
â•… At the time, Westerners were enjoying seemingly unstoppable eco-
nomic growth. There were few immediate security threats. Pakistan
was therefore not vital to Western interests. In the final months of
President Clinton’s administration, Washington gave Musharraf the
diplomatic cold shoulder and urged him to return power to elected
civilians. Then, 11 September happened.
â•… As Thomas Carothers, a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace, explained in a 2003 Foreign Affairs article, “The
cold shoulder that Washington turned toward General Pervez
Musharraf after he seized power in 1999 has been replaced by a bear
hug.”6 Suddenly, the West needed Pakistan. Its cooperation was no lon-
ger just a diplomatic bonus; it had become vital for Western security.
Without it, the war in Afghanistan would be logistically impossible and
the prospects for defeating the Taliban or capturing Osama Bin Laden
would grow much slimmer.
â•… The White House quickly canceled $1 billion of Pakistani debt,
pledged $3 billion in new aid (split evenly between civilian and military
expenditures) and shipped off hundreds of millions of dollars to the
notorious ISI, Pakistan’s military intelligence service; it is even widely
believed that American funds helped build ISI’s new headquarters.7 US
sanctions that had been implemented due to Pakistan’s nuclear pro-
gram (and to protest against Musharraf’s undemocratic coup) were

52
TUNNEL VISION
quietly waived. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the
change in policy even more direct, by telling Musharraf that as far as
US-Pakistan relations were concerned, “History starts today.” All would
be forgiven if he played ball now, regardless of past differences.
Musharraf agreed.8
â•… Just a few years later, General Musharraf even appeared on the hit
late-night American comedy show, The Daily Show, hosted by Jon
Stewart. In a surreal interview, Pakistan’s military despot joked and
laughed with an amused American audience, including a jarring light-
hearted moment where he was offered a Twinkie, contrasted against
the backdrop of an appropriate but pointed question about public
enemy number one: “Where is Osama Bin Laden?” This lighthearted-
ness would have been unthinkable in 1999, when Pakistan—Musharraf
most of all—was seen as an international pariah that needed to be
shunned and shamed back to democracy. Nothing about Musharraf had
changed, but the international context was drastically different.
â•… Even with Musharraf formally on board with the West’s War on
Terror, it’s not easy to control despots. There is credible evidence that
Pakistan’s government may have had some knowledge of where Osama
Bin Laden had been hiding. The US-backed ISI (Pakistani intelligence)
may have been aware of his whereabouts well before he was killed in
his compound in Abbottabad, literally under the noses of the officers at
the prestigious Kakul Military Academy.9
â•… This is a classic case of the tunnel vision that routinely plagues
democracy promotion. Democracy promotion cannot be effective if
short-term geostrategic concerns are allowed to dictate Western for-
eign policy, because democracy needs a sustained commitment to grow
and take root. The necessity of garnering Pakistan’s military coopera-
tion after 11 September demonstrates how easily core democracy
promotion principles can fall by the wayside when the geopolitical
context changes. But if Western governments do not believe democ-
racy promotion to be in their short-term interest, they are far less
likely to pursue it as a central strategy. In other words, for democracy
promotion to take place, it usually has to exist in a framework that
guarantees it will fall by the wayside anytime that competing interests
come into play—as they almost always do. The United States urged the
military government to return to democracy in 1999, but then needed

53
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
to ignore Pakistan’s undemocratic ways in order to fight terrorism just
three years later. This, like many reversals of democracy promotion,
had the inadvertent effect of killing off pro-democracy forces in
Pakistan with friendly fire from the West, as Washington cozied up to a
despot. But could the United States have afforded not to do so in that
crucial moment? These are the types of foreign policy dilemmas that
Western presidents, prime ministers, and diplomats routinely face.
â•… In diplomacy, the safe but unprincipled bet often wins. Across the
globe, being a despot’s adversary rather than an accomplice requires a
willingness to take risks. In 2002, Washington was not prepared to risk
it with so much at stake in the region and in the global fight against
terrorism. At most, the State Department occasionally prodded
Musharraf privately with boilerplate human rights talk. That seemed to
pay off. Left unprovoked, Pakistan hit back at the West less than it
might have. Musharraf was never going to be a democrat, but in the
eyes of Washington, he was at least “our” dictator (or more so than he
would have been had the West pressed him more aggressively).
â•… This risk-averse attitude to democracy promotion is, ironically, an
outgrowth of Western democracy itself. Spreading democracy takes a
principled long-term commitment, but democratic electorates reward
pragmatic shortsighted victories. Even if Presidents Bush Junior and
Obama had wanted to stand up to Musharraf regardless of the chal-
lenges it would present to the war effort, they also knew that public
support for the war in Afghanistan was already tepid at best. Because
Western foreign policy was being formulated in a democratic environ-
ment, under the watchful eye of skeptical voters, both presidents
needed to keep Pakistan’s government on their side to avoid further
volatility half a world away provoking an electoral backlash—and, ulti-
mately, defeat at the polls.
â•… Western democracies frequently succumb to this critical short-term
bias in formulating foreign policy for two reasons, and both undermine
the long-term march from dictatorship to genuine democracy.
â•… First, electoral cycles give “credit” to leaders that make demon-
strable progress toward the national interest during their time in office.
If President George W. Bush had helped set Pakistan on a long-term
€

course toward democratic reform but ushered in greater volatility in


the short term, he would suffer politically while his successor might be

54
TUNNEL VISION
able to take credit. Convincing a politician to hurt himself or herself
while rewarding an opponent or successor is not an easy task. The risk/
reward calculus therefore usually favors co-existing with despots over
the much longer project of trying to get rid of them.
â•… Political scientists refer to this as having a short “time horizon.”10 In
a dictatorship, by contrast, the leader can look further into the future,
knowing not only that he or she is likely still to be in power, but that
successful long-term reforms might actually prolong that tenure and
prevent a revolution or a coup. Term limits in democracies undercut
any similar incentive; Bush Junior knew the exact date of his departure
from the White House, whether his foreign policy was a success or not,
so his time horizon largely ended on 20 January 2009, when President
€

Obama took over.11


â•… Second, and related, democracies have to be responsive to constitu-
ent concerns, which are often knee-jerk reactions to global events
rather than sustained foreign policy commitments. In 2002, President
Bush may have articulated a vision for spreading global democracy, but
he did so knowing that his prevailing policy imperative was to look
tough and effective against al-Qaeda.12 That overriding policy necessity
made pressing Musharraf’s regime on democratic reform unfathomable
to the Washington establishment, and understandably so. Its extremely
likely that all modern commanders-in-chief, from Reagan to Obama,
would have made the same hard-nosed, pragmatic calculation as the
Bush administration in their post-9/11 dealings with Pakistan.
â•… Still, Bush let the pendulum swing too far; the West obviously
needed Pakistan, but Pakistan needed the West too. That dynamic gave
rise to a missed opportunity, as more pressure could have been lever-
aged against Musharraf in that moment. There was a middle ground
between isolating Pakistan completely on the one hand, and embracing
a military ruler, showering him with American tax dollars, and cheer-
ing him on a late-night comedy show on the other. This is where the
first principle for reversing democracy’s retreat comes into play: think
long-term.
â•… Democracies are not designed for long-term planning, but they can
achieve it. Whether it was JFK’s vision for a man to reach the moon
during the 1960s, or the prolonged NATO commitment to contain-
ment during the Cold War, or France’s sustained and privileged diplo-

55
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
matic ties with its former colonies, Western democracies can make
long-term foreign policy priorities stick for good or ill, weathering the
ups and downs of finicky electorates and soundbite-driven news cycles.
But this requires leadership, articulating a vision that overrides bumps
in the road, and provides a clear roadmap forward. It also requires
consensus across party lines, so that democratic reformers know that
they won’t be left out in the cold after an unfavorable election in a
Western partner nation.
â•… Long-term thinking is therefore the key to overcoming democracy
promotion tunnel vision. Thankfully, there is a consensus in
Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and Brussels that a more
democratic world generally serves Western interests—in terms of
trade, peace, stability, and diplomatic soft power (the ability of govern-
ments to cajole rather than coerce their way to making their imprint
on the world). A stable democratic Pakistan would likely be better for
democracies elsewhere, from Brazil to India and everywhere in
between. But the ideal outcome rarely happens in foreign policy, par-
ticularly when it comes to spreading and supporting democracy
abroad. For that trend to be reversed, short-term geostrategic interests
need to be incorporated into a long-term framework that puts democ-
racy promotion much higher up the ladder of Western imperatives on
the global stage. Only then can the retreat of democracy transform
back into a liberating advance.
â•… In other words, for the Bush administration in 2002, the worst out-
come was a dictatorial and uncooperative Pakistan, a lose-lose scenario
that let the Taliban roam free while suppressing democracy. The second
worst option was a dictatorial but cooperative Pakistan, a lose-win situ-
ation. The best scenario would have been a cooperative democratic
Pakistan, but the Washington establishment completely lost sight of that
ultimate ambition. As a result, when there was an opening for that
win-win option, as widespread protests broke out in favor of democ-
racy in Pakistan during late 2007, the Bush administration stood by
Musharraf rather than supporting the grassroots movement. Musharraf
was ousted against Washington’s wishes, and the democratic West’s
image suffered for having backed the unpopular general, who had badly
overstayed his welcome in the eyes of the public. For Pakistanis who
abhorred Musharraf, the West was his accomplice. Was it worth it?

56
TUNNEL VISION
â•… Between 2002 and 2010, the United States alone sent $18 billion in
economic and military aid to Pakistan, but the relationship was severely
damaged once Musharraf fell.13 The funds had bought reluctant, tem-
porary cooperation rather than a long-term partner. It’s questionable
whether it was a good investment, as spending on Pakistan alone
rivaled the United States government’s total global expenditures in
support of democracy over the same period. The return on investment
would have been far greater had the United States made clear to
Musharraf’s government—and the Pakistani people more generally—
that the cooperation on security did not give the regime a free pass on
democratic reform, good governance, and respect for human rights.
Seeing those long-term imperatives as central rather than secondary
concerns would have paid considerable dividends, likely without
imperiling the overall relationship—which was ultimately uneasy for
both sides. Chasing short-term victories that create long-term prob-
lems is the current strategy but it is not the right one.
â•… There is, unfortunately, considerable reason to believe that American
taxpayers directly funded a gift to the survival and entrenchment of
authoritarian institutions in Pakistan during this pivotal period.
Proponents of foreign aid often speak of it as buying leverage, using
financing to prod countries to reform. In this view, foreign aid should
help shore up democracy where it already exists, and push authoritar-
ian states more toward democratic rule. Instead, scholarly research has
demonstrated the existence of an “amplification effect”, meaning that
foreign aid has limited transformative power, but instead typically
serves to perpetuate existing political institutions. It is not usually the
case that government-to-government financial support for “bad” gov-
ernments provides effective leverage in turning them into “good” ones.
Put simply, aid causes democracies to become more democratic, and
dictatorships to remain unflinchingly dictatorial.14 Foreign aid is no
magic wand, and it may be more of a curse than a blessing when mis-
spent on a military regime—as it was in Pakistan.
â•… I’ll be the first to admit that “think long term” is not the most pre-
cise policy advice, but it is a crucial and forgotten bit of wisdom in
democracies as they formulate foreign policy priorities. The controver-
sial Bush Doctrine was simply swept away by President Obama’s arrival
in the Oval Office, as Bush’s failed evangelical strategy of democracy

57
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
promotion by the sword morphed into a pragmatic firefighting
approach to foreign policy crises, with no coherent direction. President
Obama admitted as much himself, boiling his foreign policy doctrine
down to a single unscripted phrase while aboard Air Force One in
2014: “Don’t do stupid shit.”15 In the following nine chapters, I provide
more direct guidance, with nine further principles for how to make the
world more democratic, but none of them would be effective without
long-term thinking. Without a long-term vision, it’s inevitable that the
West will do stupid shit, trading pyrrhic short-term security for long-
term volatility, blowback, and a less democratic world for the next
administration to inherit.
â•… Short-term thinking doesn’t just pervade the White House, Downing
Street, the Élysée Palace, or the Sori Kotei in Tokyo; it pervades the
corridors of the democracy promotion industry itself, the very people
responsible for the actual nitty-gritty of making the world more demo-
cratic day to day. Those low-level, on-the-ground interventions are also
failing, for a simple reason: making the world more democratic has
become a business, a cottage industry that is built to best thrive on
reinforcement of the status quo.
â•… It may seem surprising that the democracy promotion industry is, to
varying degrees, a business. Non-profits often act like businesses, par-
ticularly the alphabet soup of groups like the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the
National Democratic Institute (NDI), USAID, the UK’s overseas devel-
opment agency (DFID), the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty
Democracy, the German Konrad Adenauer foundation, and the European
Partnership for Democracy (EPD). But there are also literal businesses
in the game. For-profit democracy promotion businesses—yes, there are
companies that are paid by governments and foundations to spread
democracy—include firms like Chemonics and DAC, among others.16
â•… Whether profits are involved or not, democracy promotion organi-
zations have two common needs and both reflect short-term priorities.
The first is government money. Without government grants, the oper-
ating costs that pay for employees, democracy promotion programs,
and administration go unpaid and the democracy promoters have to
close up shop. The second is a space to work in; if democracy promot-
ers anger the host government too much, they’ll be expelled from the

58
TUNNEL VISION
country. “On-the-ground” democracy promotion is hard in a country
where you can’t operate.
â•… The combination of these two imperatives has forced democracy
promoters to gravitate toward “tame democracy promotion.” As Sarah
Bush argues in her book The Taming of Democracy Assistance, these orga-
nizations are no longer confronting dictators but are instead focused on
around-the-edges reforms that, by design, do not tip the scales toward
democracy in any meaningful way.17
â•… Tame democracy promotion has three main features. First, the
strength of democracy promotion is inversely proportionate to the geo-
strategic importance of the country in question. Because Bahrain hosts
the United States Fifth Fleet, it receives exceptionally tame democracy
promotion messages from the United States government. Madagascar, by
contrast, may receive a comparatively strong pro-democracy message
because it has virtually no strategic importance for the West (something
of which I had to remind my contacts in Madagascar, who repeatedly
suggested that I was a CIA agent scoping out the island for some sinister
plot). These different standards based on the strategic importance of each
country are derived from the same logic at the core of the tunnel vision
that derails democracy promotion.18
â•… Second, because NGOs compete for government grants, they have
gone overboard in trying to quantify their measures as a means of
showing “value” for their activities. Value is a difficult concept to imag-
ine in this industry, when the ultimate goal is a transition to consoli-
dated democracy. Should we really fund groups based on the number
of luncheons they run for pro-democracy activists? If the regime
becomes more authoritarian, but dozens of MPs have been briefed on
how to strengthen a political party, is that evidence of a successful
program? These questions are not abstractions; they are genuine
conundrums that funding organizations confront in an industry gone
mad with quantifying progress into “measurable” results.
â•… Sometimes, the results are tragically comical. A USAID program
operating in Cambodia during 1997 claimed that it had “exceeded
expectations” on all of its pre-selected benchmarks for democracy—
even though a coup d’état had eliminated Cambodian democracy that
year. As Sarah Bush argues, this competitive quantification of democ-
racy promotion can get out of control: “In Armenia, competition for

59
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
democracy assistance was so fierce that it drove NGO leaders to call
each other ‘grant chasers,’ ‘grantrepreneurs,’ and even ‘prostitutes.’”19
â•… The reason for this is simple; once organizations get a taste for
grants, it’s hard to go back. As one democracy promoter explained,
“One of my friends runs a $50 million organization and so he has to
generate $50 million to keep everyone employed. It means that you
have to go where the money is.”20 This grant chasing on the ground
mirrors the shortsighted approach to democracy promotion in diplo-
macy and Western government policy.
â•… Third, dictatorships resist democracy promotion, forcing democ-
racy promoters to weaken their activities simply so they can stay in
business. Each NGO needs government permission to enter the coun-
try and work on democracy promotion within its borders. As you may
imagine, democracy promoters are not always the most welcome
guests of dictatorial regimes. As a result, they have been tamed out of
necessity; provoke the regime too much, and they’ll kick you out. In
July 2015, Russia banned the National Endowment for Democracy,
expelling its workers with immediate effect.21 China is considering
following suit, and dozens and dozens of countries have passed laws
banning local NGOs from receiving foreign funding, effectively tying
the hands of Western democracy promotion organizations. For more
creative despots, democracy promotion NGOs find themselves hit with
hundreds of building code violations or extensive and onerous investi-
gations into the minutiae of their paperwork. Sometimes, as is often
the case in Jordan, the intelligence services attend training workshops
in an “observational” capacity; unsurprisingly, fewer and fewer partici-
pants show up each time. The only way for Western NGOs to avoid
such restrictions is to tame themselves and work around the authori-
tarian regime without ever challenging authoritarianism itself.
â•… This means that, by design, democracy promoters can only create
programming that is tolerated by the regime—anything that could
actually meaningfully change the political dynamic is often out of
bounds. This is why “low-level” democracy promotion can never be
effective on its own; it can only be part of the equation, in tandem with
high-level diplomatic pressure from Western governments.
â•… Belarus provides an excellent example of the tunnel vision that can
create rapid and counterproductive shifts that undermine democracy

60
TUNNEL VISION
promotion. Shortly before Christmas in 2015, I traveled there, hoping
to understand why the European Union was starting to cozy up to a
dictator. I found myself in an empty café in Minsk interviewing Mikalai
Statkevich, a former Belarusian presidential candidate turned political
prisoner. Statkevich spent nearly five years in prison for organizing a
peaceful pro-democracy protest against President Alexander Lukashenko,
often called “the last dictator in Europe.”22
â•… As he was telling me about his ordeal, a young woman walked into
the café. Rather than sit at any of the dozens of empty tables, she made
a beeline for the booth directly next to ours. She sat down opposite
me, took out her phone, held it to the side of her face, and pretended
to read. Statkevich paused, leaned forward and whispered: “I picked a
café without any microphones hidden in the tables, so they have to do
it the old fashioned way.”23
â•… The “they” he was referring to was almost certainly the Belarusian
KGB, which, unlike Russia’s FSB, still uses the antiquated Soviet acro-
nym. This is fitting. Belarus is a living museum for the Soviet Union. Its
economy is still 70 per cent state-run and its politics just as ruthless.
€

â•… Since he consolidated his authoritarian grip in the mid-1990s,


Lukashenko has, like many dictators, tried to legitimize his system of
governance by demonstrating popular support with rigged elections.
As one senior political analyst—who wished to remain anonymous
for obvious reasons—explained to me quietly at a bar in Minsk,
€

“Lukashenko instructs everyone as to what percentage he wants. Maybe


it’s 76€per€cent. But then, his aides don’t want to get in trouble in case
someone fails to deliver. So they tell the regional staff to ensure that it’s
79 per cent just to be safe. Then the regional staff tell the local staff to
make sure Lukashenko wins 83 per cent. Then, everyone delivers, and
Lukashenko gets 83 per cent.”24
â•… This dynamic explains why Lukashenko may be the only president
in modern history to have publicly admitted to rigging an election,
claiming that he actually rigged the 2006 vote downward in order to
seem more plausible to outsiders.25 For precisely the reasons the ana-
lyst explained, he believes this may genuinely be true.
â•… Moreover, in the 2010 election, several presidential candidates were
beaten in the streets by Lukashenko’s thugs. On a cold, dark afternoon
in Minsk, I asked Uladzimir Nyaklyayew about his ordeal when he ran

61
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
for president. The cost of that candidacy, he explained to me, was
nearly death, as he was attacked during a peaceful political rally in the
capital: “I was beaten, nearly to death in the street. Then, as my wounds
were still healing, I was abducted from the hospital and taken to prison.
Change can only happen if the West finds the line where help to Belarus
begins and help to Lukashenko ends.”26
â•… That is a tricky line to find, but it needs to be found to transform
this ruthless regime. Otherwise, more political prisoners will face
beatings and long prison sentences for their political views. Back in the
café, sipping his coffee as the KGB agent pretended not to listen,
Statkevich told me what it was like to be incarcerated for nearly five
years, simply for standing up to Lukashenko:
All the time, they asked me to confess and beg for forgiveness from the
president. If you sign this document, they told me, you can go home
tomorrow. I refused. After years of pressure and isolation, they tried a new
approach. Rather than isolate me, they forced me to share a cell with a
certified psycho. I shared a cell with him for two months. I was only
allowed to meet with my family once a year, for two hours each time,
behind glass. I was only allowed out of the cell one hour per day to go for
a “walk” but in a closed space. I measured it. It was thirty-five steps long.
But I still refused to sign.27
â•… Being told these harrowing stories while also being followed by
KGB agents is a little unnerving. I woke up in my Minsk hotel room the
day after arriving to a series of automated alerts from Skype saying that
my account had been targeted by a hacking attempt. My account was
shut down; it had been compromised. But during my visit, I was reas-
sured by one of my contacts, a pro-democracy dissident, in startlingly
frank language: “don’t be afraid—while the EU is processing some
grants for Belarus, you can feel safe here as I do.” A diplomat I spoke to
echoed that sentiment: “Don’t worry. You’re a twofer: you’re an
American that teaches at a prestigious British university. They’re not
going to want to piss off two governments and make headlines while
they’re reconsidering sanctions.” A precarious reassurance, but one I
was happy to have. Put differently, I was safe and avoided arrest because
democracy promotion had fallen by the wayside and the West had
recently decided to cozy up to Lukashenko in pursuit of other short-
sighted geopolitical goals.

62
TUNNEL VISION
â•… For much of the 2000s, Western governments took a principled
pro-democracy approach to Belarus. The European Union issued a visa
ban to “persons who are directly responsible for the fraudulent elec-
tions and referendum in Belarus on October 17, 2004 and those who
are responsible for severe human rights violations in the repression of
peaceful demonstrators in the aftermath of the elections and referen-
dum.”28 This was followed by an asset ban targeting Lukashenko and his
entourage in 2006. The United States was on board too. In 2004,
President Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Act, authorizing direct
government assistance to pro-democracy forces in Belarus working to
undermine Lukashenko’s dictatorship. It also effectively prohibited any
form of non-humanitarian aid to Belarus so long as Lukashenko failed
to implement democratic reforms. Waves of sanctions soon followed,
biting into the nation’s prosperity.29
â•… In response, Lukashenko cracked down on local pro-democracy
NGOs, claiming that all of them were puppets of the West. He raided
their offices and used every available opportunity to cripple their
activities. Before long, democracy promotion was tamed; substantial
pressure was not tolerated, so the only NGOs that did operate did
meaningless work while claiming to be promoting democracy.
â•… For this period, though, the West’s approach to Belarus was a full-
throated defense of democratic principles. This was possible because of
geopolitics. At the time, Lukashenko was angering the West in two
main ways. First, there was credible evidence that Belarus had provided
weapons support to countries supporting terrorism (including Saddam
Hussein’s Iraq). In fact, while the Ba’ath party loyalists were trying to
escape Iraq undetected after the US-led invasion, several—including
Saddam’s sons—were found with authentic Belarusian passports
�furnished by the government.30 Second, Belarus was a close ally of
Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Both of these aspects meant that opposing
Lukashenko was perfectly in line with supporting a democratic upris-
ing; the dictatorship was the West’s enemy already. In such instances,
tunnel vision isn’t a problem, because the short-term geostrategic
interests are aligned with the long-term democracy promotion goal.
That can quickly change if the geopolitical situation shifts. What would
happen if courting Lukashenko somehow became more attractive than
shunning him?

63
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… Three developments in 2015 and 2016 altered the West’s geopoliti-
cal calculations—and all three ensured that the West would pursue
competing shortsighted strategic interests in Belarus rather than back-
ing a long-term push for democracy.
â•… First, the Belarusian economy began to fall apart rapidly in 2015
contracting by roughly 4 per cent in just one year.31 State-run Soviet
€

enterprises dominate economic activity but they are drowning in inef-


ficiency. Second, the Russian economy is also trudging through a deep
economic slump; Vladimir Putin can no longer afford to bail out
Belarus. Third, the volatility ushered in by crises in neighboring
Ukraine and Crimea—and the souring of Russia’s relations with the
West—have transformed Belarus in the eyes of Western diplomats,
from a place that urgently needs democracy and human rights, to a
place that just needs to remain stable. Hoping to avoid further upheav-
als, the West has no appetite for anything other than business as usual
in the governments ruling the region—even if this means working with
a despot rather than working for democracy.
â•… There is therefore little reason for optimism that Lukashenko, a
ruthless political dinosaur stuck in the Soviet past, will let his authori-
tarian system go extinct anytime soon. So, there was much speculation
about how the West would behave in the immediate aftermath of the
(yet again) rigged October 2015 elections. President Lukashenko was
“re-elected” in a predictable landslide victory, winning an announced
83 per cent of the vote. In the past, Europe and the United States had
€

responded to Belarus’ blatantly rigged elections by reading off the same


stale foreign policy script: first, they condemned the election in pre-
dictable language (“The presidential election indicated that Belarus has
a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments for demo-
cratic elections”).32 Then, Western governments either strengthened or
at least maintained sanctions against the regime. Next, Lukashenko
would slink back toward his political patron Vladimir Putin, and the
two would continue their relationship, born more out of economic
necessity and security cooperation than any true personal affinity. The
end result was always the same: Belarus stays in Russia’s camp, democ-
racy remains a pipe dream, and the West has limited leverage to do
much of anything.
â•… That script was crumpled up and tossed after the October 2015
vote. Of course, the quality of the election was no different; Lukashenko’s

64
TUNNEL VISION
victory was as rigged and undemocratic as ever. “The government let
us ‘observe’ the vote tallying from 50 metres away with a group of
regime thugs blocking our view. All we could see was a bunch of butts
from 50 metres—so obviously we couldn’t see if the ballots were being
counted correctly,” one Western ambassador told me. What had
changed, however, was the international context. Isolated from the
West, Lukashenko used to rely on Putin’s deep pockets and trade with
Russia to survive (nearly half of Belarusian exports go to Russia).33
Now, with both the Belarusian and Russian economies in trouble,
Putin’s pockets are no longer so deep. Belarus therefore has a fresh
incentive to try to reconcile with the European Union and the United
States instead.
â•… Some form of uneasy reconciliation has been made possible by token
and marginal reforms (such as a handful of political prisoners including
Statkevich being released in August and nobody getting beaten close to
death like Nyaklyayew during voting in October). Those gestures
would not have been enough to placate the West’s disdain for dictator-
ship in Belarus in 2010, but seem to be enough to change the dynamic
now. In February 2016, the European Union suspended its sanctions
against Belarus.34
â•… This seems unthinkable given the dismal Western relationship with
Belarus during the 2000s, when Brussels and Washington colluded
against Lukashenko. But since the 2010 election, Russia has annexed
Crimea and destabilized Ukraine. Further afield, the ostensibly demo-
cratic Arab Spring revolutions have imploded into chaos everywhere
but Tunisia. As a result, Western diplomats in Belarus have gravitated
toward a thinking grounded in stability and pragmatism rather than
principle. For Washington, London, and Brussels, the prevailing wis-
dom today is to live with the dictatorial devil they know in Lukashenko,
rather than risk yet another crisis. And, as an added bonus, luring
Belarus away from being Putin’s pawn would be a foreign policy vic-
tory on the global chessboard.
â•… Russia won’t let that happen so easily. In late 2015, President Putin
began pressuring Lukashenko to build a Russian airbase on Belarusian
soil.35 This move irritated Lukashenko as an affront to his sovereignty
but also prodded the West to see Belarus in even starker security
terms. Now, in addition to worrying about a democratic revolution

65
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
and the volatility it could bring, Western diplomats also needed to
worry about Russia’s military expansion, just a two-hour drive from
the European Union’s eastern edge. These are real concerns that can-
not easily be dismissed.
â•… To avoid these cataclysms, the West is reducing pressure on
Lukashenko. But diplomats know that any thaw in foreign relations will
not usher in real change for Belarus or a return to democracy. Twenty-
five years after the Cold War, the country is being viewed as just
another chip in this post-Soviet East vs. West poker game. This high-
stakes gambling is perfectly, poetically symbolized by the geographic
juxtaposition of the American Embassy and the Russian ambassador’s
residence. The two buildings share a common wall, their dueling flags
towering above a bleak Minsk neighborhood, as each camp vies to peel
Belarus away from the other. As the two sides spar, Belarusian pro-
democracy forces are caught in the diplomatic crossfire.
â•… The overall victim of such high-stakes gamesmanship is genuine
reform and democratic change. Diplomats that I spoke to lamented the
need to prioritize stability over democracy, a policy that will almost
certainly entrench the dictatorial status quo.
â•… This is the problem with tunnel vision: any Western push for democ-
racy falls by the wayside when it no longer aligns with the short-term
geostrategic interests of the West. Inevitably, Lukashenko’s regime will
eventually crumble. His ruthlessness, combined with the regime’s
inability to provide for the people, will one day catch up with him.
When that happens, the transition could be extremely damaging to
Western interests in the region, as the pro-democracy forces within
Minsk bite the hand that used to feed Lukashenko’s despotism from
afar. Now, many of the pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders
I spoke to see the West as an opportunistic snake, Lukashenko’s friend
when it suits and his foe when it doesn’t.
â•… In my view, the recent thaw in relations is a shortsighted blunder
that will do more harm than good in the long run. With a long-term
vision, and a recalibration of priorities that reflect policy goals in the
next decade rather than in the next several months, Belarus could be
pushed toward democracy much more quickly. In subsequent chapters,
I outline specific strategies that can be used to prod, rather than force,
despots toward democracy. But for now, the play-it-safe West is ensur-

66
TUNNEL VISION
ing that the last dictatorship in Europe continues to survive. On
15 February 2016, the European Union fully withdrew sanctions.36
€

There had been no reforms to justify the shift.


â•… Ultimately, it seems that a thaw between Belarus and the West ironi-
cally worsens the prospects for Belarusian democracy. As the West
warms to an unreformed Lukashenko out of a perceived security
necessity, pro-democracy forces in Belarus are likely to be left out in
the unforgiving Minsk cold—perhaps shadowed by a young woman
pretending not to follow them.
â•… But at least what is happening in Belarus is better than the biggest
blunders of democracy promotion in the last fifteen years: the mis-
guided “democracy wars”, backfiring quagmires that made the world
less democratic and never should have been attempted in the first
place. It’s time, then, to leave Minsk behind and focus instead on
Kabul, Baghdad, and Tripoli.

67
4

THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”

“I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building. I think our
troops ought to be used to fight and win war.”
George W. Bush, 11 October 2000
€ €

Principle 2: Stop trying to impose democracy with war


Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden, written in 1899, cap-
tures the ethos behind the West’s recent quagmires in Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Libya:
Take up the White Man’s Burden, the savage wars of peace…
Take up the White Man’s burden, no tawdry rule of kings.
â•… Kipling’s poem, which was interpreted by some as a satire of colo-
nialism and by others as an endorsement of it, nonetheless speaks to
the notion that Western governments have a duty and an obligation to
spread good government to the “backwards” peoples of the rest of the
world. Some critics will inevitably make the argument that my defense
of democracy promotion as a concept generally falls into the same
patronizing trap. But whether you generally believe in the enterprise
of democracy promotion or not, there are undoubtedly bad ways and
better ways to pursue it. Today’s “savage wars of peace” have not, of
course, brought peace or democracy to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya.

69
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
Instead, they have imposed broken counterfeit democracies that are
struggling to avoid complete state collapse.
â•… This gives rise to a crucial lesson of the twenty-first century: democ-
racy wars simply don’t work. They are expensive, create intense blow-
back against the West, spill much blood, and ultimately don’t create
lasting democratic systems. Moreover, they undermine peaceful
democracy promotion tools, as an increasing number of regimes now
see “democracy promotion” as a euphemism for “regime change” led by
America’s armed forces. Democracy wars need to be exorcised from
the possible repertoire of diplomatic tools aimed at spreading democ-
racy abroad.
â•… In 2009 Afghans went to the polls—some of them at least. The vote
took place almost exactly eight years after the launch of Operation
Enduring Freedom—a reference to the democratizing justification of
the counterterrorism assault—in the wake of 11 September. The elec-
tion posed extensive logistical challenges. Rural polling stations were
so cut off from population centers that American helicopters were
necessary to transport ballot boxes.
â•… Six days after polls closed, an American Chinook helicopter dropped
into the valleys of the rugged mountains in Nuristan, a remote north-
eastern province bordering Pakistan. Soldiers loaded up fifty ballot
boxes in a “sling load” hanging from the chopper, took off, and set a
course for a central vote-processing center. Not long after take off, the
sling malfunctioned, sending half of the ballot boxes—twenty-five in
total—tumbling to the valley floor. Upon hitting the ground, they
burst, scattering thousands of ballots into the wind.1 The image of
ballot boxes falling from a military helicopter and exploding is an effec-
tive metaphor for the woeful state of democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and Libya today. It probably wouldn’t have mattered that much if the
twenty-five ballot boxes had reached their destination; the election was
rigged from the start, and the lost votes had likely been bought or
stuffed anyway.
â•… Mullah Tarakhel Mohammadi, an MP representing eastern Kabul,
provides a window into the fraudulent Afghan democracy that so many,
Westerners and Afghans alike, have died fighting over. From his outpost
in Kabul, Tarakhel allegedly engineered a sophisticated scheme to
churn out ballots for the incumbent president in the 2009 election,
Hamid Karzai.

70
THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”
â•… When the polls opened, an election official (who wished to remain
anonymous) arrived at his assigned polling station in Pul-i-Charki vil-
lage, to the east of Kabul. He found the ballot boxes already full,
stuffed to the brim with votes for Karzai. Tarakhel, who proudly
accepts his nickname of “Crazy Tarakhel,” denied that the ballot boxes
had been stuffed, telling a NewYork Times reporter that the overflowing
ballot boxes resulted from a a higher than anticipated turnout.2 Yet
when a British journalist arrived at the village polling location just an
hour after voting had begun, there were no voters to be seen, even
though twelve boxes had been filled with ballot papers and the official
tally showed that 5,530 voters had already come and gone. That was,
of course, impossible.
â•… The election official tried to cry foul and report the fraudulent bal-
lot boxes. When word of this reached Tarakhel (who controlled the
other election officials in the area), the Mullah telephoned the rogue
election official and instructed him to drop his protests and certify the
results. When the stubborn official refused, Tarrakhel dispatched four
armed bodyguards. They forced the official into their car and drove off.
He was released eventually, but only after polls had closed and the
ballot boxes had been certified. This happened across the country, on
all sides. The election was largely meaningless, and some election
monitors alleged that at least a third of all ballots were fraudulent.
â•… Political spin-doctors in the West saw the silver lining and many
praised the vote as an important step toward democracy. In reality,
the election made a mockery of democracy, entrenching fraud and
€

affirming that the rigged political system would continue to dictate


Afghanistan’s future.
â•… In the subsequent 2014 election, leaked covert audio recordings of
election officials captured a conversation between a senior election
official and an accomplice, with the official instructing his counterpart
to “Take the sheep into the mountain and bring them back stuffed.” The
two men then lament the rising price of buying off voters and local
officials: “The price of goats and sheep has gone up these days.”3
â•… You can’t bomb your way to democracy. And, while the United
States and its coalition partners did genuinely try to support demo-
cratic institutions in Afghanistan after toppling the Taliban-led govern-
ment in 2001, the polarization resulting from the war, the lack of

71
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
functioning institutions, historic divides, battling local warlords, and a
series of policy blunders doomed the effort.
â•… It was equally doomed in Iraq and Libya. Part of the failure there can
be attributed to avoidable gaffes that seem bizarrely amateurish and
naïve in hindsight. In May 2003, shortly after US-led coalition forces
toppled Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, L. Paul Bremer III—the
€

American viceroy of Iraq—issued two orders that would doom Iraqi


democracy for the next decade and beyond. “Order 1” disbanded the
ruling Ba’ath Party and barred any of its former members from “posi-
tions of authority and responsibility in Iraqi society.” With a pen stroke,
Iraq’s most powerful elites—the only people who had any experience
in running the country—were wiped off the political map. Legally, the
only people who would be allowed to serve in a new regime would be
those that had never served in government since Saddam Hussein took
power in 1979. By alienating Iraq’s powerful political class and scrub-
bing clear their crucial expertise from the transition, political recon-
ciliation was doomed from the start. “Order 2” disbanded the Iraqi
military, leaving 400,000 trained, armed men suddenly unemployed.
Many found “work” in the fledgling insurgency.
â•… If the goal was to create chaos, it’s hard to imagine two other orders
that would sow disorder and violence with greater effect.4 In the span
of a few months, Western intervention transformed Iraq from a func-
tioning dictatorship to a collapsed state with no effective institutions
and a burgeoning sectarian civil war. This happened because the West
took a wrecking ball to what had been built previously in Iraq, rather
than trying to co-opt existing institutions in service of democracy.
â•… Panaceas are rare in politics. It’s difficult to convincingly argue that
Iraq would be a democratic paradise free from violence if L. Paul €

Bremer had exercised restraint and avoided those two blunders. But
the decision to try to build something completely new in place of an
authoritarian system that had been in place for decades was misguided
and dangerous.
â•… Part of the problem was that Iraq hosts three sectarian groups within
its borders, which were drawn (for geostrategic reasons by Britain and
France) in the aftermath of World War I. There could just as easily have
€

been three nation-states within the current borders: one in Baghdad,


one in Basra, and one in Mosul. That doesn’t mean that democracy was

72
THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”
or is doomed in Iraq. Many diverse societies with historical sectarian
divides have overcome them in order to create a functioning govern-
ment that has at least a precarious democratic peace. Democracy could
still take root, even if it seems a long shot now. But, as Thomas
Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has
argued, democracy promotion in Iraq failed because it was overly tech-
nical and not sufficiently thought through from a “big picture” perspec-
tive. Rather than attempting to bridge major schisms in society, the
coalition authority poured money into advisers and technical assistance
on how to write a constitution and how to design a parliamentary
system rather than how to simply co-exist with perceived sectarian
enemies. For Carothers, this was like building a new house for three
quarreling families, forcing them to move in together, and expecting
them to leave their squabbles at the door. The house itself wasn’t the
problem that needed to be addressed first.5
â•… At least, though, the West did not abandon Iraq after the old system
was destroyed. While some scholars argue that an occupying force pro-
longs violence during transitions, it is also true that Western taxpayers
bankrolled an array of ambitious programs aimed at supporting democ-
racy from Mosul to Basra. The United States spent an estimated $1.82
billion on programs aimed at directly supporting democracy in post-
Saddam Iraq. The figure is much higher if other programs are included,
such as efforts to establish the rule of law or fight corruption. However,
an independent watchdog auditing the American-led rebuilding effort in
Iraq documented that more than 50 per cent of those funds were spent
on “security and overhead costs.”6 When other costs are tallied, the total
bill for the West’s intervention in Iraq approaches $2 trillion by some
estimates, but is certainly above $800 billion—which is roughly thirty
times the total of the United States’ spending on promoting democracy
everywhere else in the world during that same period.
â•… Ultimately, the Western invasion of Iraq, and all the blood spilled
and treasure spent, only created a system that can best be described as
a dysfunctional state at risk of collapse. Iraq’s political institutions act
as a counterfeit democracy at best and a milder version of Saddam’s
authoritarianism at worst. All in all, post-occupation elections are
nearly as flawed in Iraq as they are in Afghanistan. Nouri al-Maliki, who
governed Iraq from 2006 to 2014, entrenched sectarian strife while

73
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
ruling as a sort of Saddam-lite, including brazen assaults on local Iraqi
journalists and other similar despotic abuses. Most people in the
democracy promotion community—and the political establishment in
the West—agree that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been back-
firing quagmires, no matter the benchmark.
â•… In late 2015, the disaster of Iraqi democracy—which is closely
intertwined with security in the country—came full circle, as destabi-
lization devoured 300 election officials who were murdered by the
so-called Islamic State (ISIS). They were rounded up and killed by firing
squad in Mosul, while another group was knifed to death in a different
part of the city:7 yet more victims in Iraq’s seemingly quixotic struggle
for democracy, mistakenly initiated at the barrel of a gun.
â•… Hawkish critics of my argument might object here, arguing that
democracy wars can work, even though they did not work in Iraq and
Afghanistan. To an extent, they are correct. After all, two pillars of
global democracy today—Japan and Germany—both emerged as such
in the wake of destructive conflicts with the United States. However,
those conflicts diverged in significant ways from their more modern
counterparts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Libya.
â•… As Francis Fukuyuma argues, “the United States and other occupying
powers did relatively little state-building in either country: both
Germany and Japan possessed powerful state bureaucracies that survived
the war weakened but structurally intact.”8 Even though political purges
were attempted, the occupying forces recognized the necessity of re-
incorporating people with technical know-how into government opera-
tions. This was about re-legitimizing existing institutions within a new
democratic framework, rather than taking a wrecking ball to the entire
political system. In Afghanistan, by contrast, the Western intervention
effectively created a political vacuum without a functioning state.
â•… Moreover, there is an important distinction between post-war “recon-
struction” and post-war development. The West is much better at the
former than the latter. In Japan, all that was needed was reconstruction,
as effective institutions already existed. The economy was damaged
severely by the war, but it was salvageable. This differed from Iraq, Libya,
and Afghanistan, where functioning state institutions divorced from the
dictator’s personal entourage had to be created from scratch.
â•… Moreover, Germany and Japan had a common characteristic shared
by very few societies targeted in today’s democracy wars. There was no

74
THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”
major social divide; German and Japanese society both had a level of
cohesion that is rare in conflict-prone dictatorships today. This is not to
say it is non-existent, but there are a vanishingly small number of cases
that present, simultaneously, the yoke of tyrannical government, united
societies, and a strong and functional bureaucracy.
â•… Transitions to democracy are difficult by their very nature. Bombing
campaigns and invasions make them even more difficult, except in the
absolute best circumstances—which are exceedingly rare. As two
prominent political scientists put it, “Governing a society that is
democratizing is like driving a car while throwing away the steering
wheel, stepping on the gas, and fighting over which passengers will be
in the driver’s seat.”9 When the transition is done by force, the car is
destroyed, the passengers feel victimized, and an occupying force is in
the driver’s seat. It rarely plays out well.
â•… Some scholars have, however, suggested that internal war can be a
democratizing force even if international wars (especially Western
interventions) do not work. Since World War II, some democracies
have emerged phoenix-like from the ashes of conflict. But similar
examples have been few and far between since the end of the Cold War.
Croatia (1996) is perhaps the only convincing contemporary example
of a war having a clear democratizing effect.
â•… The prevailing reason for this is simple. Wars don’t just damage
infrastructure and kill people. They also divide societies. Expecting
warring factions to simply resolve their differences through the ballot
box when fighting ends is as naïve as imagining that democracy will
arise from bomb craters. The challenge, therefore, is to create a demo-
cratic system out of an undemocratic means of defusing tensions:
power-sharing agreements. These can be immensely helpful in forcing
both sides of a conflict to work toward a lasting peace; after all, if each
side has a meaningful say in the country’s future, neither will have as
strong an incentive to destroy that future with further conflict.
â•… However, power-sharing agreements can also be exceptionally
undemocratic, substituting the will of the majority for a system that
simply declares both sides winners for the sake of expediency. When
that happens, democracy may remain exceptionally flimsy, ready to
regress back to fighting as soon as the next election, political crisis, or
security challenge rolls around. Afghanistan’s 2014 power-sharing

75
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
agreement and subsequent collapse back into fierce fighting offers a
clear example of the perils of such agreements.
â•… At other times, even power-sharing agreements become impossible,
as reconciliation is out of reach for viciously fighting camps with radi-
cally different visions for the country at war. This is the case now in
Libya, where Western intervention created a political vacuum so force-
ful that it has sucked the life out of any meaningful attempts at national
unity—and doomed democracy in the process.
â•… The West’s intervention in Libya has been disastrous. The decision to
use Western-led airstrikes was justified as a means to depose Muammar
Gaddafi and “pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a
dictator, but to its people,” in the words of President Obama.10
â•… Gaddafi, who was killed in the aftermath of the airstrikes, truly was
one of the more bizarre dictators in modern history. Due to a crippling
fear of heights, he refused to mount more than thirty-five steps. He
loathed elevators, which is part of the reason why he traveled with a
flowing but bulletproof multi-colored Bedouin tent, to sleep in on his
travels abroad. Most of the time, the tent would be filled with camels;
he would drink their milk to prove to guests that he had not forgotten
his roots as a tribesman even though he was one of the richest despots
in the world. The tent was routinely guarded by his private Amazonian
bodyguard detail, forty fierce virgins who took a vow of chastity when
they pledged their service to Gaddafi’s protection.11
â•… But even if the bodyguards didn’t tempt Gaddafi, other high-profile
women did. The erratic Libyan despot reportedly showered former US
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice with $200,000 worth of gifts—
including a lute—during her visit to Tripoli in 2008. Even though she
was part of an administration that advocated Western-initiated regime
change in the Arab world, overthrowing dictators by force, Gaddafi
was smitten. When he finally fell from power in 2011, rebels found a
carefully composed photo album in his palace, featuring picture after
picture of Secretary Rice. Perhaps this shouldn’t have been a total sur-
prise; after all, like a creepy stalker, the Libyan despot told Al-Jazeera
in 2007, “Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much.”12
â•… Gaddafi was clearly unhinged. His reign was oppressive, brutal, and
vindictive. Clearly, Libya could do better with a less erratic leader.
However, Libya in 2016 is without any leader at all.

76
THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”
â•… The Western intervention in Libya involved nineteen countries, and
not just the usual suspects. While France, the United Kingdom, and the
United States conducted most combat flights, Norway and Denmark
combined to drop 700 bombs during the air campaign. Several Arab
states also backed the intervention. Between 19 March and 31 October
€ €

2011, coalition forces flew nearly 30,000 “sorties” in an attempt to tip


the scales against the dictatorship and in favor of rebels painting them-
selves as committed democratic reformers.13 As John McCain glow-
ingly noted, “[The rebels’] Prime Minister got a doctorate at the
University of Pittsburgh. Their Finance Minister was recently teaching
economics in Seattle…others are lawyers, doctors, women activists.”14
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also chimed in, insisting that
NATO air raids would produce a democratic Libya: “These people at
the top of this organization are genuine believers in democracy and the
rule of law. It is quite inspiring.”15
â•… Either the West was being fooled, or the rebels’ commitment to
genuine democracy was much weaker than the internal rivalries over
who would wield power in a reconstructed Libyan state. This is the
problem with sudden, militarized pushes for democracy from the out-
side: it is never clear what will take the despot’s place, and there is
little time to ensure that it’s not just chaos.
â•… Shortly after Gaddafi was killed, Libya began to spiral out of control.
By 2015, the Libyan state had splintered, with two governments—
one in Tobruk and one in Tripoli—each proclaiming control.16 In reality,
the on-the-ground control lies with militia commanders and warlords
who hold the politicians in both capitals hostage. Taking advantage of the
lawlessness, migrants have flooded out of Libya and into Europe.
Extremists have entered Tunisia, prompting Libya’s neighbor to build a
wall along the length of its eastern border. But most importantly, the
basic functions of the Libyan state have collapsed. It is a power vacuum,
a politically anarchic abyss just a few hundred miles south of Europe. The
promise of democracy hinted at by those pushing Western intervention
has been replaced by the insecurity and volatility of a failed state.
â•… This, of course, was certainly not the exclusive fault of the West.
Libyans themselves did not learn from the mistakes made in Iraq. The
Libyan “Political Isolation Law” mirrored de-Ba’athification attempts in
Iraq, removing from Libya’s political future anyone with any level of

77
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
expertise, because they were considered “tainted” by Gaddafi, who had
been in power since 1969. Moreover, the Central Bank of Libya has
inexplicably continued to pay salaries to militiamen, effectively incen-
tivizing young unemployed men to join warring factions, all while the
bank funds both sides.17 This truly bizarre situation shows precisely
who the power-brokers in today’s Libya are: the men with guns, the
true forces behind dueling sham assemblies from Tobruk to Tripoli.
â•… Anarchy is a dangerous thing in a world susceptible to terrorism.
Osama Bin Laden gravitated toward Afghanistan like a moth to an
ungoverned flame, knowing that a weak state would allow his opera-
tions a degree of anonymity and peace and quiet. Today, ISIS is using the
same logic to set up footholds not only in Syria and Iraq but also in
Libya. By early 2016, an estimated 6,500 ISIS fighters were based in
Libya, a number that is steadily growing at the time of writing.18
â•… This is the trouble with trying to spread democracy through the
barrel of the gun. Just as shoppers are on the hook to purchase any-
thing they break in a store, the West is on the hook to clean up the
aftermaths of failed democracy wars abroad. “You break it, you own it”
is a mantra that the West has learned the hard way in Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Libya. While the West took that obligation seriously in Afghanistan
and Iraq (even though their efforts have ultimately failed), similar sup-
port for Libya has not been forthcoming. Instead, the West tried to
destroy the state from the air and then fly away. This doesn’t work,
which is why Western governments are now being enticed to engage in
further airstrikes against ISIS within Libya, cleaning up the mess that
they helped to make.
â•… This is not to say that Western interventions at least tangentially
driven by a democratizing agenda are evil attempts to destroy other
countries for the fun of it—far from it. Many of the brave soldiers who
gave their lives in each intervention understood their mission as a
means to bring a better and freer life to an oppressed people. The
conflicts’ architects did not hope to sow chaos and provide a foothold
to terrorists. But the inadvertent consequences of democracy wars are
impossible to stomach. The number of analysts, politicians, and diplo-
mats who think these three wars have had a net positive effect on the
country in question are dwindling by the week as more bad news spills
out of each quagmire. Unfortunately, the lesson that Western govern-

78
THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”
ments seem to have learned from these experiences is to shy away from
democracy promotion altogether, preferring the devil we know. This is
a mistake. Democracy cannot be spread with military force, but it can
still be spread. However, now that the Pandora’s Box of these three
disastrous democracy wars has been opened, despots around the world
are using those failed interventions to crack down on peaceful democ-
racy promotion within their borders, claiming that it is just a pretext
for democracy promotion with bombs. In that way, failed democracy
wars have done extensive damage to democracy around the globe, not
just to hopes for democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
â•… On 26 February 2016, the 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls
€

squared off in a debate in Houston, Texas. Donald Trump, the frontrun-


ner, delivered a blistering attack on military interventions aiming to
establish democracy and instead defended Muammar Gaddafi and
Saddam Hussein: “We would be so much better off if Qaddafi were in
charge right now … and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Qaddafi
in charge … we would have been better off if the politicians took a day
off instead of going into war.” The fact that a US presidential candidate
could heap backhanded praise on despots and dictators shows exactly
how much damage these interventions has caused in Western thinking.
The discourse of a decade ago couldn’t have been more different. The
twenty-first century’s democracy wars were so disastrous that they risk
Americans following Trump’s seductive logic: if you can’t get rid of
them with force, then we should embrace them. That’s absolutely the
wrong approach, even though military interventions to support demo�
cracy are usually dangerous fool’s errands.
â•… The use of military force is always going to be a contentious topic.
It is one of the most fateful decisions any country can make. But the
evidence of the last fifteen years is crystal clear: spreading democracy
with war does not work. Democracy does sometimes arise naturally
from the aftermath of war, but Western governments are foolhardy to
try to impose it externally. That doesn’t mean that we should cozy up
to despots and counterfeit democrats around the globe. It does mean
that the justification for any future military interventions should be
clearly dissociated from any stated aim to impose democracy with the
sharp end of the West’s very sharp stick. Only then can we move away
from the “savage wars of peace” and toward a more meaningful and
lasting democratic peace.

79
5

THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS

Principle 3: Insist on real democracy and coordinate low-level


and high-level diplomacy
Since the end of the Cold War, a new norm has developed: rulers now
have to at least pretend to be democratic. This is an important shift and
it has, in some places, been a crucial force in advancing democracy.
Sometimes, by going through the motions, countries do become more
democratic.1 For the most part, however, that progress has stalled and
slipped backward. We are currently seeing a “hollowing out” of global
democracy as countries around the world become empty shells, places
where the pageantry of democracy looks attractive, but the substance
is lacking. The West, unfortunately, is fueling this trend with two mis-
guided policies.
â•… First, there is what I call the Madagascar Effect, or the curse of low
expectations: countries are routinely pressured to do only the bare
minimum for democracy, and no more. Second, there is the West’s gift
to dictators and counterfeit democrats: the lack of coordination in
Western foreign policy between high-level diplomacy and low-level,
technical democracy promotion. Sometimes this takes the form of
rosy statements by diplomats and higher-level government officials
overshadowing election observation reports—which are often accu-
rate, technical assessments of election quality. At other times, it

81
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
occurs when low-level democracy promotion programs are under-
mined by much more powerful diplomatic support for the authoritar-
ian regime. This mismatch plays into the hands of despotic govern-
ments, giving them a chance to legitimize their authoritarian rule by
capitalizing on low-level reforms rather than any substantial changes
to the system itself.
â•… Both these policies need to change if the retreat of meaningful
democracy is to be reversed. Azerbaijan showcases the effects of both.
In 2013, Azerbaijan was the eleventh most authoritarian country in the
world. Put differently, 94 per cent of the world’s countries were more
€

democratic than Azerbaijan at that time (the proportion is roughly the


same in 2016).2 The president, Ilham Aliyev, was and is, like his father
before him, a caricature of a dictator. Corruption is so rampant that in
2010, the president’s son—an 11-year-old boy—purchased nine
waterfront mansions in Dubai worth a total of $44 million. The average
citizen of Azerbaijan would have to work for 10,000 years to afford the
mansions. This was difficult to explain for the president, who officially
subsists on a salary of around $250,000. When reporters asked the
reasonable question, “How was it that an 11 year-old is able to afford
nine waterfront homes when his father claims to have a modest head-
of-state salary?”, the presidential spokesman responded, “I have no
comment on anything. I am stopping this talk. Goodbye.”3 This is typi-
cal Azerbaijan—opaque governance and slammed-down phones,
because transparency would expose the inner workings of a dictator-
ship run on cronyism rather than popular legitimacy.
â•… As a result, everyone knew that, yet again, the 2013 elections would
be a charade. But nobody expected them to be such a blatant joke—
one that probably wasn’t funny to the people of Azerbaijan.
â•… In the run-up to the election, the opposition coalesced behind the
Oscar-winning film director Rustam Ibragimbekov. As a director,
Igrabimbekov had created the cult Soviet classic The White Sun of the
Desert (1966) which, to this day, is screened for cosmonauts as a good
luck omen before they blast off into space. But his challenge against
Aliyev was much more short-lived than his film’s cult legacy; Aliyev’s
regime quickly disqualified Ibragimbekov because he had both
Azerbaijani and Russian citizenship. As a result, the campaign pro-
ceeded with only token opposition as usual.

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
â•… The election was scheduled for 9 October 2013. In anticipation of
€

the big day, the Aliyev regime had decided to showcase its technologi-
cal savvy by creating an iPhone app that would provide up-to-date vote
tallies as returns came in after polls closed. The app was released and
ready to go. But then, something strange happened. The day before the
election, people who had downloaded the app were surprised to find
that it had updated results from the election that was supposed to take
place the following day—complete results for all the candidates,
including turnout by district. Nobody had voted yet. The government
spokesman tried to cover-up the absurd gaffe by claiming that it was
simply reiterating results from the previous election. That didn’t con-
vince many people, because the candidate names had been updated and
the results and turnout figures were different from the previous elec-
tion’s results. The ridiculous spectacle of Azerbaijan’s rigged elections
had been exposed. The results had been decided (and inadvertently
announced) before the polls had even opened, as the government
boasted about precisely how many Azerbaijanis had deemed it worth
their time to vote for their dictator. Comically, after the gaffe had been
made public, the regime attempted to cover up its mistake by releasing
different official results the following day—with an even larger land-
slide victory than the app had suggested.4
â•… The iPhone blunder exposed the worst-kept secret in Baku—that
Azerbaijani elections were always a complete sham. Nobody was really
surprised to have those suspicions confirmed. What was surprising,
however, was the Western reaction to an election that was stolen before
polls even opened.
â•… The rigging had started well before election day: the main opposition
candidate had been excluded; the opposition had been given extremely
limited media time; and intimidation (against voters and candidates alike)
was rampant. On election day itself, foreign observers in 58 per cent of
€

polling locations documented serious fraud or manipulation.5 Observers


actually witnessed thirty-seven instances of ballot box stuffing right in
front of them. The number of ballots cast rarely matched the official tally.
This was a textbook example of how to rig an election.
â•… Every step of the way, the technical, on-the-ground experts robustly
documented how the entire vote was deeply flawed from the start.
They did their job. But the high-level message coming from the West

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was completely different. A Congressional delegation from the United
States fawned over the quality of the election. Former representative
Michael McMahon, a Democrat from New York, said the election was
“honest, fair, and really efficient.” He was impressed by the short
queues of voters (perhaps because a lot of people weren’t actually vot-
ing, but were having their ballots stuffed into ballot boxes). A contin-
gent from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and
the European Parliament echoed these flowery sentiments, saying,
“Overall around Election Day we have observed a free, fair and trans-
parent electoral process… From what we have seen, electoral proce-
dures on the eve and on Election Day have been carried out in a profes-
sional and peaceful way.”6 It is probably true that the ballot box stuffing
was done peacefully, and the henchmen who did it are certainly pros,
but that doesn’t mean it was free or fair. It was neither.
â•… Azerbaijan holds strategic importance for the United States for its
position as an oil transit point from the Caspian Sea. Moreover, Aliyev
helped the West by deploying a limited number of troops to assist with
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He allowed coalition bombers to
refuel on Azerbaijan’s airstrips. So there are reasons why the West
might want to airbrush the election’s extensive blemishes. Even so, this
was a remarkable show of hypocrisy at the high level, even while the
low-level assessment was spot on. The bar was set so low that even
Azerbaijan could clear it, and then mixed international messages
allowed Aliyev to seize the positive comments to paint his “re-election”
in a positive light, all with the help of Western apologists.7
â•… This schizophrenic message from the West, with ground-level
democracy promotion tools (like the election monitors’ reports) con-
demning an election and international diplomacy voicing little con-
cern, is a problem. Not only does such behavior entrench dictators but
it also leaves pro-democracy reformers caught in the crossfire of mixed
messages between high-level diplomacy and low-level technical assess-
ments. Furthermore, it provides absolutely no reason for autocrats like
Aliyev to change. After all, he carried out one of the most obvious
election riggings in modern history, and still received praise from top-
level Western figures. If that’s not a recipe for business as usual, I don’t
know what is. The West was complicit in undermining democratic
reformers in Azerbaijan.

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
â•… This hasn’t, however, stopped the West from its quixotic spending
to promote democracy in Azerbaijan. United States taxpayers have
dumped $55 million in democracy promotion on Azerbaijan since the
early 1990s. From 2007 to 2011, USAID spent $5.6 million to
“enhance the overall effectiveness” of Azerbaijan’s parliament.8 This
included a training initiative to “solidify [the parliament’s] own sense of
identity.” It was a colossal waste of money because the parliament is a
meaningless rubber stamp for Aliyev. A candid government assessment
of the program found that the funding for training had no effect on
Azerbaijan’s democracy, or even on the functioning of the parliament.
Low-level democracy programming was rendered useless by high-level
diplomatic support for the regime.
â•… Azerbaijan is not necessarily a representative case, however, because it
could be categorized under the “Saudi Arabia Effect”: geostrategic inter-
ests reduce Western pressure for democratic reforms. What happens in
countries on the global periphery? Is the experience the same for nations
that have absolutely no strategic value for the United States and its
Western allies? Surely those are the cases where a high bar can be set and
principles can trump pragmatism; after all, it should arguably be easier
to be principled when there are so few core interests at stake.
â•… In 2012, I took the first of many trips to Madagascar, the world’s
fourth largest island and a place that is as isolated politically as it is
geographically. Many Western diplomats have probably never even
heard of the capital, Antananarivo. When I called my bank to let them
know not to block my debit card if I bought something on the island,
the cheery customer service representative said, “Madagascar? I
thought that was a children’s cartoon. Are you sure that’s a country?” I
assured her that the cartoon was named after the country, not the
reverse, and that it is a very real country that 23 million individuals call
home, even though very few people take any notice of them.
â•… Madagascar is also a paragon of counterfeit democracy. The nation
has elections, and those elections even sometimes result in peaceful
transfers of power. But the elections themselves are severely flawed.
Illicit money buys campaigns. Coups and coup attempts are regular
occurrences. In 2006, a major opposition candidate was denied the
opportunity to stand in the election after the president stopped him
from coming home by unilaterally closing down the island’s airports—

85
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
just as his plane was about to start its descent. The flight was turned
around several times as it approached the airport, as the president
toyed with his opponent.9 This is a place that looks like a democracy
from the outside, but is obviously not one once you take a closer look
inside (if, unlike the opposition leader, you can make it in).
â•… To understand why Madagascar always seems stuck between dicta-
torship and democracy, I found myself calling General Desiré-Philippe
Ramakavélo, a retired Malagasy general who had previously served as
minister of the armed forces and continues to have major sway over the
island’s politics. I’ll never forget that phone call, which taught me
plenty about the ways that informal power and strongmen, much more
than formal political institutions, dominate politics in Madagascar. We
were speaking in French, but here’s what was said:
â•… “Hello, yes, General Ramakavélo—I’m hoping to speak with you.
I’m a researcher studying democracy in Madagascar and—”
â•… “Hello. Don’t say stupid things. There is no democracy in Madagascar.”
â•… “Okay, well, I’d still like to speak to you about the lack of democracy
then. Would that be possible?”
â•… “Breakfast. 8am. Tomorrow. My house.”
â•… “Oh, okay, sure that sounds great. Could you give me directions or
maybe a landmark to—”
â•… “Are you taking a taxi?”
â•…“Yes.”
â•… “Just tell them you want to see General Ramakavélo. They’ll know
what to do.”
â•… And then, with a click, he was gone.
â•… The next morning, bewildered, I flagged down a passing taxi and told
the driver, somewhat sheepishly it must be said, that I wanted to see
General Ramakavélo. He nodded simply, and fired up his 1960s Citroën
Deux Chevaux, a car that resembles the vintage Volkswagen Beetle in
both style and age. The motor hummed to life. I got in, and was surprised
to find that there was no floor on the passenger side. The driver pointed
to two metal rails that were the remains of a collapsed footwell, and I put
one foot on each, straddling the gaping hole. We set off, and I watched
the colonial-era cobblestone streets of this forgotten capital city pass
below the car as we lumbered Fred Flintstone-style up and down
Antananarivo’s dusty hills, en route to see the fabled general.

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
â•… Soon, we arrived at the base of a steep hill. The taxi driver pointed
to an imposing house at the top. As I approached the house, General
Ramakavélo—a distinguished-looking man with swept-back peppery
gray hair—emerged and welcomed me warmly. After the phone call, I
didn’t know what to expect. But whatever I was hoping for, I was not
disappointed. After shaking my hand, General Ramakavelo got right
down to business: “Ask me your questions,” he said.
â•… I opened with a question about Western support for democracy in
Madagascar—whether it had been effective, whether it was useful, and
whether he was pleased to see the West helping his country. The gen-
eral paused, got up from the couch, grabbed a small leather bound
book, and sat back down. “I think,” he said, “that the only way to answer
your question, is with one of my poems.”
â•… He proceeded to read several to me. They were all beautifully writ-
ten. But the one that stuck out was called Langouste, “the rock lobster”.
The gist of it was that Madagascar was a rock lobster, a spiny creature
that walks backward in the eyes of the West, which couldn’t care less
which way it walked. “It doesn’t matter that it walks backward, so long
as you can get its succulent meat,” he explained as he finished reading.
“The West cares about democracy in name only here. As long as we
have elections, they can go back to business. If we have a coup, they get
worried, they complain, and eventually, we hold elections. It doesn’t
matter if they are any good. Then the cycle repeats itself.”
â•… General Ramakavélo does acknowledge, however, that Western
pressure has changed political dynamics in Madagascar. When I asked
him how Western pressure had shifted the island’s politics, he had his
answer ready to go.
â•… “Do you know what I did when we had a political crisis in 1991?”
â•… “Refresh my memory,” I replied.
â•… “You see the hotel at the base of the hill, the Panorama? Well, back
then, just like now, we had some politicians that wouldn’t get along. I
picked them up, made them come with me, forced them both into the
hotel, locked them inside, and told them they could leave when they
signed an agreement. They signed what became known as the ‘Panorama
Convention’ in that hotel. It ushered in Madagascar’s first multi-party
elections. Unfortunately,” he finished with a sigh, “you can’t do things like
that anymore. They would condemn it immediately.”

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… The “they” he was referring to was Western governments, and he’s
almost certainly right; if a general in a geopolitically unimportant
country like Madagascar kidnapped civilian political leaders and locked
them in a hotel for a few days in 2016, it would conjure up a wave of
condemnation from across the Western world. Today, particularly in
strategically unimportant places, there may be more of an appetite for
actually enforcing baseline democratic principles (which is why coups
are bluntly condemned in Madagascar but swept under the rug and
called something else in Egypt). However, being geopolitically unim-
portant is, in some ways, the worst of both worlds. The West will insist
on democracy (what is there to lose?), but will force halfhearted
democratization. The principled approach is only committed to an
extremely low baseline of democratic procedures. As long as it looks
like a democracy from a distance, that’s often good enough. Countries
like Madagascar (rightly) feel the ire of the West when they clearly
gravitate toward authoritarianism, but then are given every incentive
to create only a counterfeit democracy. This helps to trap countries
between dictatorship and democracy.
â•… Part of this halfhearted baseline comes from something that I call
“electoral grade inflation.” In universities and colleges, professors often
lament grade inflation, wherein the average score gravitates toward an
“A” to avoid dooming students’ career prospects—even if their work
actually deserves a “B” or “C”. The same thing happens all the time in
elections, particularly as the lexicon of election monitoring does not
allow for much nuance. Pick up a newspaper after an important elec-
tion has happened in an “emerging democracy” (itself a terrible euphe-
mism) and I’ll bet you that the words “free and fair” appear in the story.
Occasionally, the words “not free and fair” appear, but that is rare.
â•… This dichotomy is problematic for two reasons. First, having a pass/
fail approach to elections is counterproductive. Try comparing elec-
tions in Iceland with elections in Sierra Leone. Now grade them with
the same rubric. Do both pass? Does one fail? Their political systems
are vastly different. Sierra Leone is in the nascent stages of democrati-
zation while Iceland has a democratic heritage that spans more than a
thousand years, but the prevailing language that observers have to work
boils down to “free and fair” or “not free and fair.”10 It doesn’t make
sense. There needs to be a better way to show progress without out-

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
right condemnation and some way to show regression without outright
praise. That nuance, which exists in most election reports, is lost at the
journalistic and diplomatic level. Those are the messages that make a
political splash, not the lengthy, technical election reports.
â•… Second, when elections are considered “not free and fair,” it can tie
the hands of Western governments that have admirably formed a politi-
cal determination not to dispatch foreign aid to countries that have
fundamentally unfair elections. As a result, election observers—which
are a huge force for democratization around the globe generally—may
sometimes nonetheless hesitate to condemn an election outright,
knowing that their classification could doom the country to an eco-
nomic recession; in places like Madagascar, the loss of foreign aid is a
crushing blow that will wipe out much-needed economic growth for
years. Western governments may also hesitate to certify such a classifi-
cation, particularly if they have ongoing aid operations or trade links
with the country in question. As a result, for an election to be con-
demned it usually needs both to be egregiously and blatantly rigged
and to take place in a country that either holds no geostrategic interest
for the West, or is a perceived enemy of the West.
â•… I served with the Carter Center as an election observer in
Madagascar’s 2013 poll. The election was blighted by many undemocratic
warts. Two major candidates had been excluded from participating, and
one had previously taken power in a coup. Illicit funding was the main
source of campaign financing with no transparency or oversight.11 And,
perhaps worst of all, the last population census was undertaken in
1993—twenty years before the election—which meant that millions of
voters were kept off the voting rolls.12 To try to address the problem,
Madagascar sent a patchwork group of officials door-to-door in an
attempt to register voters; it was uneven at best and left large parts of the
island uncovered. Imagine something similar happening in France, Japan,
or the Netherlands, and people saying that, yes, a few million people
were denied the right to vote, but overall it was a good election. It would
be unthinkable. But it’s what happened in Madagascar.
â•… The Carter Center, to its credit, avoided a caricature of Madagascar’s
elections; it is the Center’s policy to avoid phrases like “(not) free and
fair” in its reports. In 2013, it documented flaws carefully and systemati-
cally; such reports are hugely important weapons against despotism. But

89
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
others fell into the usual traps of false dichotomies and excessive praise.
The EU’s chief election observer, María Muñiz de Urquiza, declared the
elections “free, transparent, and credible” after just a few hundred ballots
had been counted.13 It’s hard to see how the vote was credible, when the
margins between candidates were exceedingly narrow while millions
were left off the voter rolls. “Free, transparent, and credible” are words
that would never be used for a similarly dubious election if it happened
in Ireland or Belgium, but such lofty phrases were regularly bandied
about in Madagascar after a severely flawed vote.
â•… There is one surprising reason for this—yet another case of good
intentions that produce bad results. One election official from the EU
mission told me that they had been instructed to endorse the election
“unless lots of people got killed.” This was because the EU had already
earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to Madagascar, but the
funding had not been disbursed since 2009 because the government
had been toppled in a coup, whose leaders were isolated by the EU in
a principled, pro-democracy stance. The EU never expected, however,
that the coup government would stay in power for nearly five years. In
order to help Madagascar, the logic went, the election had to be
endorsed—no matter its quality. Several monitors I’ve spoken with in
diverse elections have told me that they routinely experience some
form of pressure to focus on the positives. This is particularly likely in
observation groups funded by or affiliated with governments that have
serious diplomatic “skin in the game.”
â•… This shows the full circle of Western activity in a non-strategic coun-
try—from a principled approach post-coup to later sweeping electoral
scabs under the proverbial rug as a means to re-legitimize the govern-
ment in order to disburse long-earmarked foreign aid. Ultimately, the
outcomes in Azerbaijan and in Madagascar were similar, even though
their geopolitical positions are different. The curse of low expectations
gave no incentive for further improvements beyond the pitifully low
benchmark for democracy set by Western governments. Keep in mind,
too, that elections are just one component of functional democracy,
though elections are given disproportionate influence in Western for-
eign policy assessments. Often, what happens after an election is
equally, if not more, important for the democratic health of a nation.
The fetishization of elections helps further entrench low expectations
once the dust has cleared from voting.

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
â•… In particular, the time between elections is when the democracy
promotion industry is critical. These are the programs that you rarely
hear about but that do important work: training to help the political
system become more inclusive; technical assistance to political parties
by demonstrating models that other countries have used to develop
party manifestos; or showcasing possible models drawn from all over
the world for writing a democratic constitution. These are important
and necessary features of any Western attempt to support and spread
democracy abroad. But they are not working, at least not nearly as well
as they should be. They are far too often the victims of contradictory
high-level diplomacy that ends up bolstering despots rather than prod-
ding them to reform and embrace democratic change.
â•… Rwanda showcases this problem brilliantly. The tiny landlocked
country is not Azerbaijan—there are no major Western strategic inter-
ests at stake in Kigali. So, as with Madagascar, you might mistakenly
expect the West’s democratic bar to be high in Rwanda. As in Madagascar,
you would be disappointed.
â•… Known as the Land of a Thousand Hills for its rugged terrain,
Rwanda is infamous for playing host to one of the grisliest genocides of
modern times. Some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were hacked to death by
Hutus wielding machetes. Often the perpetrators and their victims
were even neighbors or friends, pushed to despicable acts by ethnic
demagogues. After the initial killing stopped in Rwanda, it spilled over
into refugee camps across the border, in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo, sparking one of the greatest mass-casualty conflicts in
African history. Hutus and Tutsis alike died on a tragic scale.
â•… When the dust settled and a precarious peace returned, Paul
Kagame—the former military commander of the Rwandan Patriotic
Front Tutsi rebel group—was the man at the top. He ruled through a
puppet until 2000 and then formally took power. Since taking charge,
Kagame has turned the country’s economy around with impressive
results, but he did so as a despot with virtually no tolerance for opposi-
tion or resistance. Kagame has been masterful at using low-level
democracy promotion (programs aimed at forcing democratic reforms
on the ground) to ensure that he doesn’t have to reform at all. In other
words, he has taken the West’s agenda and turned it around to under-
mine the West’s stated goals. Kagame has co-opted the low-level activi-

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
ties adopted by Western governments to support democracy in Rwanda
and used those efforts as tools to entrench his authoritarian regime.
â•… For example, groups like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and
USAID have spent heavily on encouraging Rwanda’s government to
include women in politics. That is an excellent goal, not to say a lesson
that the donor countries should heed themselves. However, Kagame has
used this pressure to create further strength for his savvy brand of
authoritarianism. In response to Western cajoling and foreign aid invest-
ments, Kagame has helped ensure that Rwanda leads the world in terms
of its representation of women in parliament. Women hold fifty-one out
of eighty seats in Rwanda’s lower house (nearly 64 per cent, far better
than the United States, on 19 per cent; Sweden is the best Western coun-
try by that metric, with 44 per cent).14 Rwanda’s success on this front has
allowed the country to continue extracting tens of millions of dollars of
“democracy and good governance” aid from the United States alone, not
to mention similar investments from donors across Western Europe.
â•… This matters because Kagame is one of Africa’s premier spin-doc-
tors, marrying aspects of “good governance” that the West prizes (like
women’s representation in parliament) with strong economic growth,
guided by his firm and despotic hand. As a result, he can point to those
important and real achievements, while being dismissive of more sub-
stantive critiques of his dictatorial reign. The correct way to see female
representation in Rwanda is as follows: it’s wonderful that an enfeebled
parliament has a lot of women in it, but it’s still an enfeebled parlia-
ment that inevitably must bow to a single male despot. Is that true
progress? What really matters is whether parliament has a voice, not
the gender of the people who are silenced within it.
â•… Regardless, Kagame’s gender equity masterstroke has worked bril-
liantly. And that’s the problem. Admirable and well-intentioned democ-
racy promotion programs get overshadowed and ultimately under-
mined by diplomacy that parrots Kagame’s lines about being a
reformer, when he is truly nothing of the sort. Kagame actually uses
the low-level democracy promotion as a rhetorical tool to defuse and
deflect meaningful pressure. Western leaders have taken the bait, hook,
line, and sinker. Tony Blair called Kagame “a visionary leader.”15 Bill
Clinton fawned that he was “one of the greatest leaders of our time.”16
Bono, U2’s frontman, routinely presents him as a model for other lead-

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
ers in developing countries. Consequently, he has been referred to as
“the global elite’s favorite strongman.”17
â•… There are two sides to President Kagame the despot: one positive,
one negative. Both present difficult conundrums about the merits of
democracy and dictatorship in post-conflict zones that need, some may
argue, economic growth and stability more than anything.
â•… On the positive side, Kagame’s leadership has arguably produced the
greatest economic turnaround in any post-conflict country since the
Cold War. It is certainly the most striking achievement in sub-Saharan
Africa, as he took a war-torn basket case with 800,000 bodies in the
streets and churned out steady economic growth that, at times,
approached double digits. His success comes from a micro-manager’s
attention to detail, using authoritarian methods to insist on achieving
clear results. For example, Kagame’s imihigo program forces govern-
ment officials to sign contracts for the results they are expected to
deliver, and all of them are meticulously benchmarked. This is not just
about big initiatives; local officials even sign contracts to ensure that
they will produce the correct number of inseminated cows in their
district … or else.18 With this method, Kagame delivers. Aid agen-
cies—which are almost always focused on measurable outcomes—
tend to love him. Money comes in. Results come out.
â•… This invites a deeper question. Is the price of democracy worth it?
Rwanda was war-torn; now it’s peaceful. The economy was broken;
now it’s thriving. Hutus and Tutsis were butchering each other for
years; now they co-exist. Maybe Kagame is onto something. This is the
seductive logic that has allowed superficial democratic “reforms” to
obscure Kagame’s true face as a despot, all with the support of fawning
Western diplomats. Are Rwandans better off as a sort of African
Singapore? Are we certain that similarly powerful economic results
would be impossible under a more democratic system?
â•… Kagame’s micro-managing attention to detail isn’t always a good
thing. In banal ways, it infringes on basic freedoms; dirty clothes are
outlawed and sharing straws is prohibited (both laws are enforced).
Alice Muhirwa, a member of the opposition, explained to The NewYork
Times: “It’s like there’s an invisible eye everywhere… Kagame’s eye.”19
â•… Beyond the straws and the inseminated cows, though, Rwanda’s
despotic elite silences dissent in more meaningful ways, sometimes

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viciously. There have been an alarming number of politically motivated
abductions in recent years. Some jailed dissidents have mysteriously
died in custody. For ordinary Rwandans, these tales are enough to
teach them that free speech does not exist in the Land of a Thousand
Hills. Amazingly, though, it doesn’t exist for Rwandans abroad either,
as many of the government’s opponents who have slipped through the
net and gone into exile have later been assassinated. The story of these
hit squads would have been covered up, swept under the rug like so
much in Rwanda, had it not been for the brave journalism of Judi
Rever and Geoffrey York of Canada’s Globe & Mail.
â•… In 2011, Colonel Dan Munyuza, the director of Rwandan military
intelligence and a close adviser to Kagame, contacted Robert Higiro, a
former Rwandan military officer living in exile. Higiro was asked to do
a job: kill two enemies of President Kagame—Colonel Karegeya and
General Nyamwasa. Higiro agreed, sensing that this was more of a
threat-based order than a request. However, rather than proceed, he
tipped off the intended targets and recorded the phone conversations
with Kagame’s right-hand man: “The price is not a problem. We will
show our appreciation if things are beautifully done. They will be
rewarded.” Higiro asked for $1.5 million to carry out the hit; Munyuza
suggested $1 million instead. The men agreed. The point, the intelli-
gence chief insisted, was to ensure that nobody else talked badly about
Kagame in the future. “If we managed to hit both of them … others
would shut up.”20
â•… Though Higiro tipped off Colonel Karegeya, it was to no avail.
When Higiro didn’t go through with the plot, the government found
someone else. Karegeya was strangled to death with a towel in an
upscale Johannesburg hotel room. Two Rwandans had booked rooms
across the hall from the colonel; they flew back to Kigali the morning
after Karegeya had been murdered. The other target, General
Nyamwasa, is still alive—barely. He has a bullet lodged in his spine
from a previous assassination attempt in South Africa, and has escaped
three other attacks miraculously unharmed.
â•… Kagame’s reach extends well beyond South Africa. In March 2011, he
was a guest on a BBC radio program. Rene Claudel Mugenzi, a Rwandan
activist living in exile in the United Kingdom, called into the show and
asked whether an Arab Spring-like revolution might happen in Rwanda,

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THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
as a popular uprising toppled the authoritarian regime. Just weeks later,
Mugenzi received a letter—hand delivered by the Metropolitan Police—
warning that “Reliable intelligence states that the Rwandan government
poses an imminent threat to your life.” Mugenzi is thankfully still alive,
but British intelligence doesn’t issue such warnings lightly, and the threat
still exists. At a minimum, Mugenzi received a powerful message from
Kagame’s shadowy entourage.21
â•… In Rwanda, political opponents disappear, are abducted, or jailed.
Should we still be thrilled that there are a high proportion of women
in its rubber-stamp parliament?
â•… Western governments seem to think so. The West is funding
Kagame’s administration, even though they try to claim that they do
not fund despotic regimes. 30 to 40 per cent of all Rwandan govern-
€

ment spending comes from foreign aid. And, as political scientists and
economists have demonstrated convincingly, even earmarked aid slated
for specific purposes is “fungible,” meaning that money from Western
governments can simply free up existing funds for use in indirectly
financing clientele networks, repression, military arms, and other
nefarious efforts.22 Kagame certainly takes advantage of precisely that.
Western tax dollars are bolstering the Rwandan government’s efforts
to oppress its citizens, stifle dissent, and even kill its enemies.
â•… This strategy is counterproductive to Western interests. Kagame’s
rule has left a sizeable portion of Rwandans disillusioned with their
government. Because of his ruthless intolerance for dissent, their
grievances are simmering below the political surface, held under
Kagame’s tight lid. But when the transition comes away from Kagame,
as it eventually will, Western backing of his authoritarianism could
backfire, provoking far greater instability and strife than would other-
wise occur. Helping an authoritarian ruler stay in power beyond their
popular welcome almost never ends well; it usually produces more
volatility and conflict.
â•… Moreover, think of what Western support for Kagame does for other
leaders in the region. If you were the president of Burundi, or the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, and you saw Western leaders fall-
ing over themselves trying to tout Kagame’s leadership, wouldn’t you
feel like mimicking him was a good idea? Leaders of both nations have
begun to do exactly that, most recently by moving to unilaterally

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
extend their time in office beyond the constitutional limits, a tactic
learned from their despotic neighbor. In late 2015, Kagame’s regime
also changed Rwanda’s constitution, allowing him to extend his rule as
far as 2034. If he can last that long, nearly forty years will have elapsed
since anyone but Kagame held power in Rwanda.23
â•… Now, for the first time since 1994, Kagame’s status as the West’s
darling is beginning to come under fire. At last, there are signs that
high-level diplomats are removing the wool from their eyes and seeing
the bigger picture. In mid-2015, with the constitutional referendum
pending, President Obama offered a pointed (and not so subtle) jab at
Kagame’s leadership: “When a leader tries to change the rules in the
middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife…
And this is often just a first step down a perilous path.”24
â•… Obama’s more pointed rhetoric may provide hope after all that
democracy promotion efforts in Rwanda could be unusually harmoni-
ous, with low-level programming and high-level diplomatic rhetoric
marshaled in pursuit of a genuine democratic goal. But if the prepon-
derance of evidence around the globe in recent years is any guide,
Rwanda is unlikely to face a truly high bar for what constitutes democ-
racy. Instead, it is likely that Western governments would be contented
with bare-bones reforms, perhaps bringing Rwanda closer to the
Madagascar model, where the illusion of democracy at least looks good
from the outside and international assassination plots come to an end.
Until then, though, Rwandans—like billions of others around the
world—will continue to be cursed by the West’s low expectations.

96
6

BACKING THE WRONG HORSE

Principle 4: Do not directly intervene in foreign elections


One of the annoying things about democracy is that other people often
don’t feel the same way that you do. Worse still, sometimes those
people outnumber you. Democracy forces people with radically differ-
ent opinions to co-exist in the same society. In international relations,
that’s an unavoidable problem. In order to truly support democracy,
Western governments have to support the integrity of the electoral
process—even if it could result in a government that the West finds
abhorrent, reckless, and even terroristic. Respecting that people
should have a choice in selecting their government necessarily means
respecting their ability to make their own choice.
â•… For many Western governments, that inevitable price of democracy
is too high. Rather than risk it, they intervene, trying to influence the
outcome of the election—sometimes covertly—in order to stop their
enemies from coming to power. Trying to pick winners and losers is
almost always a case of backing the wrong horse, because it’s illegiti-
mate and undemocratic for foreign governments to actively manipulate
another government’s internal affairs. Governments are completely
free to indicate their support for a certain party, or politician, in for-
eign elections. They are free to suggest that diplomatic consequences
may follow if a certain party wins. The line is crossed, in my view,

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
when foreign intervention involves critical funding for one party at the
expense of another, aiming to sway the election from how it would
have unfolded in the absence of foreign intervention.
â•… That’s the liberal foreign policy side of my brain talking. But even to
the realpolitik side, it is becoming clear that preferential backing in
foreign elections often backfires, gift-wrapping the election for the
very party that Western governments were hoping to undermine. In
other words, even if you don’t care about the normative value of non-
interference in foreign elections, it’s worth considering how it can
often be counterproductive to Western interests. And, as was the case
in the 1953 coup in Iran, meddling in the internal affairs of other gov-
ernments can sometimes seem like a good idea at the time, only to
create an enemy that endures for decades. Even in hard-nosed concep-
tions of foreign policy, election interventions are therefore not usually
a good long-term foreign policy strategy.
â•… Nonetheless, regional or global powers have been backing allies in
key elections for decades. The CIA worked aggressively to derail the
Italian left in the 1948 elections.1 The United States likely helped sway
the vote against Nicaragua’s Sandinista president Daniel Ortega in
1990.2 Western advisers also worked with the Serbian opposition to
help in their fight against Slobodan Miloševicc.€

â•… Intervening in elections is not, however, a phenomenon exclusive to


the West. India aimed to influence the 2008 elections in Nepal, swaying
Nepalese voters to support parties that would uphold India’s key for-
eign affairs priorities.3 In Lebanon’s 2009 elections, a key battleground
in the Middle East power rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the
Saudi government alone spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the
race (even though Lebanon is only home to 4 million people). The
money was used to bankroll a massive vote buying campaign, with
foreign financing driving up the average cost per vote to above $800.
Foreign governments also provided free plane tickets to expatriate
Lebanese to return home to vote, on the condition that they back the
“right” party.4 In other words, Western governments certainly do not
have a monopoly on meddling in elections abroad.
â•… However, this strategy has increasingly been viewed as a viable
option in the West, especially in the twenty-first century. As the failed
and hugely costly interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on,

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BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
realists in the Western foreign policy establishment began to see inter-
vention in elections as a sort of “bargain” form of regime change: all the
perks, with none of the costly clean-up—or so the thinking went.
â•… In 2002, just a year after taking office, President Bush articulated a
new approach for resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict. The strategy
revolved around a new push for Palestinians to hold credible elections.
It was essential, President Bush argued in a speech, to forge “a working
democracy for the Palestinian people.”5 It took three and a half years,
but Bush’s vision came to fruition in early 2006. It became a classic
foreign policy case of “be careful what you wish for”.
â•… For the United States, Israel, and Western allies with similar interests
in the region, the elections were an unmitigated disaster. On 25 January
€

2006, Palestinians voted in a poll that was considered by most interna-


tional observers to be highly credible. There may have been some “elec-
toral grade inflation” at play, of course, but generally, the elections were
not heavily flawed. In the eyes of the United States, the same could not
be said of the winner. Hamas, a militant, Islamist party, won the elections
with a clear mandate from the Palestinian voters. This was highly unwel-
come news for the United States. Now an organization that was officially
designated as a terrorist group was in power, and it could claim the
mantle of popular legitimacy derived from a genuine election. That same
legitimacy was now lost for American’s preferred partner, the Fatah fac-
tion of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
â•… Fatah had made itself unpopular. The party allowed its members to
engage in sustained political corruption that tainted its image with vot-
ers. Hamas capitalized on this, displaying a superior level of party disci-
pline and “clean” politics. Hamas rode its anti-corruption message all the
way to victory. But corruption alone did not create the stunning electoral
rebuke of Fatah. The United States helped ensure it, with its biased (and
arguably counterproductive) partisan electoral support for Fatah in the
years, months, and days before Palestinians went to the polls.
â•… Political scientists have classified two types of foreign (and particu-
larly Western) involvement in elections abroad. The first type is parti-
san engagement, wherein a foreign power actively backs a specific
party or candidate at the expense of others. The second is process
engagement, wherein the foreign power takes an even-handed approach,
supporting democratic institutions and processes (such as the indepen-

99
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
dent election commission) rather than weighing in on a particular side.
In preliminary research, scholars have found evidence that partisan
engagement can damage democracy by polarizing the electorate and
crippling moderates—a group of people who are usually critical to the
success of any sort of democratic consolidation. Without moderates,
the risk of a democratic reversal increases substantially. Process engage-
ment doesn’t necessarily help much, but it does less harm.6
â•… In the 2006 Palestinian elections, the United States decided on a
strategy of polarizing partisan engagement rather than supporting the
democratic process more broadly. In Washington, there was a clear
view: Hamas could not be allowed to win the elections, as this would
deal a deadly blow to prospects for peace in the region. A terrorist
group could not become the legitimately elected representative of the
Palestinian people. This was an understandable perspective, and I have
absolutely no love for Hamas. However, by actively and directly sup-
porting Fatah in the election campaign, the United States likely fueled
a Hamas victory.
â•… As it became clear that the Palestinian Authority was heading toward
elections, the Bush administration scaled up aid to President Mahmoud
Abbas’ Fatah-led government. In 2004, the United States provided
roughly $75 million to the Palestinian Authority to help it govern. But in
the year leading up to elections, that figure more than tripled to $275
million (accounting for more than 7 per cent of all Palestinian Authority
€

expenditures that year).7 This was not a solely American intervention.


Adding in funding from the EU, hundreds of millions went to help the
Fatah faction “meet their payrolls, field their security forces, make wel-
fare payments and build infrastructure.”8 This was intended as a sort of
trickle-down diplomacy, hoping that Western-funded governance suc-
cesses would translate to electoral victory for Fatah.
â•… But the intervention went beyond simply bolstering Fatah’s ability
to govern; the Bush administration also stripped an earmarked expen-
diture of $45–75 million that had been slated for a desalinization plant
in the Gaza Strip.9 This was a shrewd move, because Gaza was (and is)
known as a Hamas stronghold and a weak point for Fatah. By stripping
funding from that area and reallocating it to the West Bank, the United
States was using clean water as an electoral weapon, aimed at making
it easier for Fatah to provide for the population at the expense of

100
BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
Hamas. The thinking in Washington was that such a move could only
bolster Fatah’s credibility going into the elections.
â•… That longer-term financial support was also matched with a critical
pre-election push, as the Bush administration also quietly disbursed $2
million in emergency pre-election funding to Fatah just before the
election. Bizarrely, those American tax dollars were used just before
voting began to pay for a Palestinian youth soccer tournament, a tree
planting ceremony, and a last-minute street cleaning initiative.10 Each
basically functioned as a high-profile Fatah rally linked to a project that
enjoyed widespread popular support. The projects coincided with a
major US-funded publicity campaign showcasing these initiatives—and
others from the previous year—as a means to highlight Fatah leader-
ship in the Palestinian Authority.
â•… Critically, however, the US broke its own rules in spending these
emergency funds. When USAID spends money, the organization is
supposed to publicize that funding as a means of generating public
awareness that American taxpayers are helping another country in a
time of need.Yet in this case, the United States government recognized
that such publicity would almost certainly backfire; only about a fifth
of Palestinians held a favorable or somewhat favorable view of the
United States at the time, so linking President Bush to Fatah would
have been an obvious blunder. The decision to ensure that USAID
would not publicly be associated with Fatah’s electoral campaign was
justified euphemistically as a “temporary paradigm shift.”11
â•… Unfortunately for the United States, the story broke before the elec-
tions. The United States, in yet another instance of Orwellian double-
speak, attempted to claim that it was not taking sides when it was doing
precisely that. James A. Bever, the director of West Bank and Gaza opera-
€

tions for USAID, explained: “We are not favoring any particular party…
But we do not support parties that are on the terrorism list.We are here
to support the democratic process.”12 In other words, “We are not sup-
porting any particular party… But we do not support Hamas. We are
here to support the democratic process so long as Fatah wins.”
â•… Palestinians can read between the lines. They knew that the US was
actively backing Fatah and actively working against Hamas, and had
spent $2 million in emergency disbursements to sway the vote. While
$2 million pales in comparison to other Western disbursements in the

101
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
Palestinian Territories, it dwarfed local spending by the political parties
themselves (one estimate suggests that Hamas spent less than $1 mil-
lion during the campaign). Many people who were on the fence may
have been swayed against Fatah, with its image even more tarnished by
its unpopular Western allies. It would be impossible to prove that
American support for Fatah ensured a Hamas victory, but it is likely—
particularly as the margin of victory was narrow.
â•… Hamas won. The peace process stalled then regressed. A week after
the election results were announced, someone fired a Qassam rocket
into a kibbutz south of Ashkelon; four people, including a one-year-old
baby, were injured as the rocket caused a roof collapse.13 Intelligence
sources indicated that Hamas had likely sponsored the attack—one of
many more to come.14 The electoral result took Washington completely
by surprise. Condoleeza Rice, the American secretary of state (and
long-shot object of Muammar Gaddafi’s affections) spoke of the elec-
tions blindsiding the administration: “I’ve asked why nobody saw it
coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough
pulse.”15 Perhaps, but it may also be a case of a misguided electoral
intervention backfiring at a critical time—a time when the narrowest
of margins could be swayed by the perception of foreign influence run
amok in a highly sensitive political climate.
â•… Another post-mortem of the election offered a different take. Martin
Indyk, a seasoned Middle East negotiator from the Clinton administra-
tion, argued that “There is a lot of blame to go around. But on the
American side, the conceptual failure that contributed to disaster was the
president’s belief that democracy and elections solve everything.”16
â•… Indyk’s argument is a broader critique of democracy promotion and
one that I do not share. I believe that the Palestinian people have every
right to elect their leadership, even if it results in a regime that I (or my
government) do not agree with. I certainly do not agree with
Hamas—I abhor their violence, and I would prefer if they were a
deeply unpopular fringe group among the Palestinians.Yet I picked this
example precisely because it’s one of the hardest ones to defend. To
maintain consistency, I have to believe that genuinely free and fair elec-
tions are a good thing, even if the elected regime deals a setback to the
peace process. It’s hard to stomach, but I think it’s correct, at least in
the long run.

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BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
â•… In this way, support for democracy is akin to support for free
speech. If only widely popular speech is protected, then the notion of
freedom of speech is rendered meaningless. The power of free speech
arises when unpopular attitudes are protected. Likewise, if the demo-
cratic process can only be supported when it produces the West’s pre-
ferred result, then democracy is meaningless. If we believe people
should have a choice, we have to respect them enough to let them make
that choice without foreign interference. There are, of course, limits.
Once an elected leader starts to antagonize Western interests, then it
is entirely legitimate to use all the carrots and sticks of traditional
diplomacy. Once Hamas took power, the United States had every right
to try to isolate it. But Palestinians deserved a chance to have their
voice heard, rather than having it drowned out by American funding in
pursuit of Western interests.
â•… Moreover, non-intervention in elections in also usually in the West’s
self-interest, at least in the long run. I believe that principled interven-
tion in support of democratic institutions, regardless of the players
involved, can help empower moderates, even if the outcome of the
election doesn’t tilt in the West’s favor. Over the long term, however,
continued interference in foreign elections on behalf of a specific party
is virtually certain to backfire, as a polarized political system is far
more volatile than one built on consensus.
â•… Of course, Hamas might have won the elections anyway. Nobody
can be sure, and I certainly believe that the most critical actor in those
elections was the Palestinians themselves—even if the United States
may have tipped the scales. Either way, Hamas’s victory was a major
setback for peace, in my view, but a setback I would have been willing
to accept if it was clearly the legitimate will of the Palestinian people,
free from external coercion or influence.
â•… The US and European states had every right to publicize the planned
foreign policy consequences of a Hamas victory; they had every right
to impose sanctions, or refuse to cooperate with a Hamas-led govern-
ment if it didn’t renounce its aggressive stance toward Israel; and, of
course, they had every right to sound the alarm bells and impose exter-
nal costs on the new regime if it took steps to ensure that future elec-
tions would not take place, or would become meaningless. After all,
the clichéd refrain that Hitler was elected democratically doesn’t make

103
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
him a democrat, nor does it call into the question whether it was legiti-
mate to actively oppose him once he was elected. It most certainly was
and he obviously should have been more strongly opposed earlier on.
Electoral victories don’t give leaders carte blanche, but the elections
themselves shouldn’t be meddled with. In other words, democracy is
a moral good, but democratically elected leaders shouldn’t get away
with other moral violations just because they won the most votes.
â•… In the interest of both realpolitik and the principle of spreading
meaningful democracy, the 2006 contest in the Palestinian Territories
shows the damaging blowback of electoral interference that was more
of a self-inflicted wound than a viable democracy promotion strategy.
â•… There is, however, one way that Western governments (in conjunc-
tion with the United Nations) can help enforce democracy, after allow-
ing the process to play out “naturally.” When elections take place, and
the prevailing view is that they were clean, credible, and reflected the
genuine will of the people, I believe it is legitimate for a short-term,
multi-national force with an exceptionally strict mandate to ensure that
the electoral victor is able to take power. Otherwise, what can one do
when an incumbent loses an election but refuses to leave power? In my
view, this, along with post-conflict peacekeeping, is a rare instance
when military force may be a useful tool in pursuit of democracy
abroad.Yet the conditions for such an intervention are limited; it’s only
worth pursuing if the losing candidate does not have the backing of a
powerful military force and there is a reasonable chance that the use of
force will not spark further destabilizing conflict. Those are big ifs.
â•… With such narrow scope for success, this type of intervention is not
used frequently. But sometimes, it can be implemented to great effect.
The most successful military intervention to install an elected presi-
dent in recent years occurred in 2011, in Côte d’Ivoire, the cocoa-rich
and repeatedly war-torn West African nation.
â•… The 2010 elections in Côte d’Ivoire were meant to close a chapter
of warfare rather than start a new one. The previous elections, held in
2000, helped spark a low-intensity civil war that lasted between 2002
and 2007. The 2010 vote, which pitted the two warring factions against
each other, was intended to resolve the conflict peacefully, allowing the
Ivoirian people the chance to turn the page and move on with a legiti-
mately elected government. The two protagonists in this tragic tale

104
BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
were Laurent Gbabgbo of the Front Populaire Ivorien (Ivoirian Popular
Front) and Alassane Ouattara of the Rassemblement des Républicains
(Rally of the Republicans). Gbagbo, the incumbent president heading
into the 2010 contest, largely represented the southern, Christian half
of the country; Ouattara’s stronghold was in the Muslim north.
â•… Western governments tended to favor the rebel-backed Ouattara over
the incumbent President Gbagbo—partly because Gbagbo was starting
to shift contracts toward Chinese firms rather than Western (and mainly
French) ones, and partly because Ouattara had previously worked at the
top echelons of the International Monetary Fund. Ouattara was therefore
seen in the West as the reformer Côte d’Ivoire needed to turn around a
broken economy, battered by years of civil war.
â•… However, unlike in the 2006 Palestinian elections, there was no
evidence to suggest that Western governments directly tampered with
the actual process of campaigning, voting, or tabulation. Côte d’Ivoire’s
Independent Electoral Commission certified that Ouattara received
54 per cent to Gbagbo’s 46 per cent. The United Nations’ parallel
vote tally certified that result, confirming Ouattara as the clear victor.
International observers agreed.
╅ Rather than accept defeat, however, Gbagbo called on the Constitu�
tional Court—a court that he had stacked with allies—to “revisit” the
results. Their “revised” tally showed a clear Gbagbo victory, flipping the
results. Nobody in the international community bought this, but
Ivorian politics had reached an impasse. As the standoff continued,
fighting broke out between Gbagbo loyalists and Ouattara’s rebel mili-
tias. In Gbagbo’s strongholds in the capital, Abidjan, pro-Ouattara sup-
porters were stopped at impromptu checkpoints and condemned to
die under a so-called “Article 125” verdict, named because gasoline
cost 100 francs, and matches cost 25 francs. They were set alight in the
street, leaving black grease stains charred into the ground for months
to come.17
â•… Ouattara’s rebels sprung into action as the brutality became rampant
in Abidjan and Gbagbo continued to resist calls to step down. They
swept across the country in a lightning-quick assault, capturing most of
the national territory in three days. Their takeover was tainted by hor-
rific revenge attacks. In the town of Duékoué, Ouattara forces went
house to house, AK-47s in hand, rounding up the men and systemati-

105
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
cally executing them. Witnesses recount the soldiers’ chants of “You
voted Gbagbo! We are going to kill you all!” as they fired their rounds.
They left behind 800 bodies rotting in the streets.18
â•… Even after such grisly violence on both sides, Abidjan was still a
battleground after the rebel offensive. It quickly became clear that
street-to-street fighting was heading toward a bloody, prolonged stale-
mate. In the midst of fighting, the UN Security Council—including
China and Russia—backed Ouattara as the legitimate victor and called
for targeted sanctions against Gbagbo until he relinquished power.
When that didn’t work, the UN pressed for further action.
â•… French troops, under the banner of the United Nations, intervened
to enforce the democratic will of the Ivoirian people. French helicop-
ters attacked Gbagbo’s guard towers. Western bombs fell on crucial
ammunition depots. Then, French troops swooped through Abidjan,
leading Ouattara’s forces literally to Gbagbo’s doorstep. They arrested
him, put a bulletproof vest on him for his own protection, and handed
power to Ouattara. Months later, Gbagbo was shipped off to The Hague
to await trial at the International Criminal Court; Outtara and his
forces were never indicted.19
â•… Depending on partisan affiliation, Ivoirians saw this as either neo-
colonialism or a much-needed assault to support democracy by defeating
a stubborn despot. The intervention itself was imperfect and set some
unfortunate precedents. It also created some unintended ripple effects,
sowing the seeds of important social divides that linger today. Still, it got
the job done. Ouattara won the election and Ouattara took office. As a
result, Côte d’Ivoire’s experience can be used not as a paragon, but a
flawed model for future action to enforce democratic verdicts.
â•… I traveled to Abidjan shortly after the civil war had ended. Ouattara
had recently taken power. There was an eerie calm, as the serenity of
warm sunshine in the bustling capital was broken up with jarring
reminders of what had just taken place. Government buildings were
riddled with bullet holes. Every so often, a UN peacekeeping convoy
would rumble through the streets, Bangladeshi soldiers at the helm of
machine guns mounted on the backs of their armored vehicles. Their
mandate was to support the fragile new government, which was largely
composed of former rebels.
â•… Ouattara’s rebels cleaned up nicely. I met with an array of them. Many
of the leaders of the Forces Nouvelles rebel coalition had become gov-

106
BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
ernment ministers, occupying the very buildings that their troops had
been shooting at months earlier. Others were living well but had not yet
been “placed”, waiting to see what President Ouattara had in store for
their professional careers to reward them for loyalty through the years.
â•… I wanted to understand how the international intervention had sup-
ported—or undermined—democracy in Côte d’Ivoire. Several politi-
cal types encouraged me to meet with Kokhav Koné Abou Bakary
Sidick, a self-proclaimed man of many talents, whose business card
reads: “Geographer. Historian. Theologian. Doctor. Professor.
Researcher. Writer.” Like the initial phone conversation with General
Ramakavélo in Madagascar, this one was not easy to forget. We
arranged to meet in an area called Plateau Dokui, which is about as
precise as setting a meeting in Washington DC to be held “somewhere
in Georgetown” or “around King’s Cross” in London.
â•… “Yes, I’d be happy to meet with you,” he said. “Do you know where
Plateau Dokui is?”
â•… “Yes… roughly. Is there a specific café or restaurant you’d like to
meet at in Plateau Dokui?”
â•… “Are you white?”
â•… “Um, yes, why?”
â•… “Just go to Plateau Dokui. I’ll find you.”
â•… Clad in a suit and tie and just on the outskirts of the working-class
Abobo neighborhood, an area of Abidjan where foreigners seldom vis-
ited, I had to admit I did stick out. But it was still fairly awkward when
I asked the taxi driver to let me out on the side of a random road. Sure
enough, less than five minutes later, a young man excitedly ran toward
me. “Monsieur Brian?” he asked. I nodded. “Follow me.” He led me to
Professor Koné Abou Bakary Sidick’s office, a modest little space with
an aging air conditioning unit groaning in the background as we spoke.
He explained that:
The root of the problem here is that since the birth of Côte d’Ivoire, presi-
dents have been unwilling to accept a political adversary. And, because of
graft and corruption, the world of politics is the only avenue to becoming
rich in Africa. It’s the case in Côte d’Ivoire too.You launch a rebellion, you
might become rich.
â•… In his view, Côte d’Ivoire’s flimsy democratic foundation needed
external support to survive.

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
Our democracy is young. It is fragile. A single power-hungry man can
destroy something that millions have built. So even though I do not like
that our former colonizer came in with guns and bombs, it was necessary.
It stopped the violence. It ensured that the election result—the voice of
the people—would be respected. We have had enough bloodshed. We have
not had enough democracy.
â•… Unsurprisingly, the former rebels that now occupied positions of
authority echoed this message. But for nearly half of the country—the
half that backed Gbagbo—the French/UN intervention was an unmiti-
gated disaster, an example of imperialist overreach where foreign pow-
ers had imposed their preference on Ivoirians by force. To them, this
was like the 2006 elections in Palestine, but on some exceptionally
militaristic steroids.
â•… I reached out to a former member of Gbagbo’s entourage, a profes-
sor who only agreed to meet with me on the strict condition that I not
identify him by name. “I’ll get killed in a reprisal attack,” he claimed.
The whole meeting had an air of uneasy paranoia to it, but given the
post-war political climate, I couldn’t say it was wholly unjustified. He
told me to meet him at a school, a welcome dose of precision after my
interview in Plateau Dokui. When I arrived, however, the school was
abandoned and partly in rubble, a victim of neglect and disrepair or
civil war shelling—I couldn’t be totally sure which. Regardless, when
someone picks an abandoned school for a rendezvous, red flags pop up.
Minutes later, an SUV with tinted windows rolled to a slow stop, the
passenger window slid downward, and the driver motioned to me to
get in. This is the type of thing that trained journalists would be told
never, ever to do. I am not a trained journalist.
â•… It turned out to be a good decision. The professor and his wife were
warm and welcoming. We sipped French cognac, something I found
particularly ironic given the circumstances and the attitudes they held:
This was an election stolen by the French. This wasn’t democracy. It was
[French President] Sarkozy’s revenge against us because we tried to be
independent. But they’ll never let us be independent. When they couldn’t
get what they want from the people, they just took it by force. They’ll use
any pretext to put Outtara in power. And now we have to be in hiding,
hiding in our own country.
â•… This was a bit of hyperbole; the professor was not wanted for any
crimes and there had been limited reprisal attacks against former

108
BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
Gbagbo partisans in Côte d’Ivoire, particularly once Gbagbo was in
custody in The Hague. But the professor’s nervous, angry sentiments,
born from a feeling of being shut out of the political sphere, highlights
three mistakes made by the French-led UN intervention. We must
learn from each.
â•… First, while it was most convenient for French troops to lead the
assault because they were already stationed there, any military action
to help “enforce” democratic verdicts must be genuinely multi-national
and, ideally, not exclusively Western. It’s also a bad idea to have a for-
mer colonial power dominate the intervention. It doesn’t look good,
to say the least.
â•… Second, while the UN Security Council should play a crucial role
in assessing the prospects of success for a military intervention—par-
ticularly because some of the five permanent members may play a
role, at least with logistical support—they should not have veto con-
trol over any potential interventions. If they do, then the scope of
possible interventions will be severely limited and unfairly skewed.
China’s, Russia’s, and the United States’ vetoes in particular could
ensure that demoÂ�cracy is never “enforced” in ally or client states of
world powers. As a result, the Security Council (like the International
Criminal Court) will suffer a heavy bias, only to be wielded as a
weapon in African states, places that tend to have disproportionately
low geostrategic interests for major world powers. This would be a
disastrous reinforcement of the “neo-colonial” impression expressed
by the professor—and he may have a point. While it’s impossible to
know for sure, I’m not convinced that a similarly swift response from
the international community would have been forthcoming if the vote
tally had been reversed, and the Independent Election Commission
had declared victory for Gbagbo, and not the West’s darling, Ouattara.
Therefore, such interventions must be divorced from geopolitics, as
much as is possible.
â•… Third, and perhaps most importantly, any post-election, post-con-
flict intervention needs to be genuinely even-handed. There is sub-
stance to the claim that President Ouattara, his political entourage, and
his former rebel forces, have been the beneficiaries of victors’ justice.
It is highly likely that both sides committed war crimes in the 2010–11
violence, but only one is being punished. Ouattara is in power; Gbagbo

109
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
is in a jail cell. Such lopsided application of post-election reconciliation
strategies cannot be replicated in future interventions if they are to
succeed; otherwise, the election may only establish a temporary peace,
one that could relapse into conflict at the next vote.
â•… This type of military pro-democracy intervention should not be
used unless there is genuine international consensus as to the legiti-
mate election victor, nor should it be used if there is a reasonable risk
of exacerbating rather than easing violence.
â•… Thankfully, Côte d’Ivoire is a success story. In 2016, Abidjan is boom-
ing, not with bombs and shells, but with the sounds of construction and
commerce. The 2011 intervention helped pave the way for a flawed, but
ultimately peaceful, 2015 election. The country is back on track.
â•… Whereas the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections showed how
Western governments can overstep their legitimate influence in the
domestic affairs of another country, the democracy enforcement inter-
vention in Côte d’Ivoire showcases the ability of Western nations to
help consolidate democracy. There were mistakes, certainly, but by and
large a low-level civil war was contained and the democratic will of the
Ivoirian people upheld. Therefore, the two contrasting examples dem-
onstrate the perils of direct interference in elections themselves, but
make clear that foreign actors can help create a framework that rewards
those that play by the rules and punishes those that don’t once the
democratic verdict has been decided.
â•… Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if there were a way to entice stubborn
despots to simply step down in the first place, before the bloodshed
begins?

110
7

GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

Principle 5: Give despots a way out


Before widespread fighting broke out in Côte d’Ivoire, President
Obama reportedly called the embattled incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo,
and offered him asylum in the United States. Obama even went one
step further, promising that he would arrange a faculty position for
Gbagbo as a visiting scholar at Boston University.1 Gbagbo was a his-
tory professor before he entered politics, and the idea was simple:
tempt him with a cushy job and a guarantee of safety so that he
wouldn’t drive his country into a bloody, costly, destabilizing conflict.
On that occasion, it didn’t work. Gbagbo decided to stay and fight, and
while it didn’t cost him his life, it did cost him his freedom. But he
could just as easily have been a faculty member gallivanting around
Boston in tweed, teaching African history to rich kids churned out of
East Coast prep schools.
â•… The failure to remove Gbagbo with an enticing job offer does not
mean that such overtures are a bad idea. Western leaders hoping to
make the world more democratic should extend a set of “golden hand-
cuffs” to leaders, conditioned on their willingness to peacefully transfer
power to a successor, ideally after an election.
â•… What happens to a leader after they leave power depends a lot on
where they ruled. Since 1989, not a single leader has been imprisoned,

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
killed, or forced into exile in Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, the
United States, Canada, New Zealand or Australia.2 Not only that, but
there is a clear path to riches; leave power, and go off and make your
millions on the speaking circuit. Bill and Hillary Clinton, for example,
earned $140 million giving speeches around the United States from
2007 to 2015 alone.3 Leaving power didn’t exactly doom their pros-
pects for future prosperity.
â•… For leaders in the rest of the world, the risks are different. Leaving
office is perilous. In non-Western countries, 6.5 per cent of rulers
€

leaving power since 1989 have found a new home in a jail cell, and 2
per cent have been killed. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the odds are even
€

worse. Since the end of the Cold War, 23 per cent of deposed African
rulers were forced into exile; around 8 per cent were jailed; and
5€per€cent were killed.4 Put differently, more than one in three Sub-
Saharan leaders can expect not to be allowed to return home after
leaving office, because they are killed, jailed, or banished from the
country they formerly ruled.
â•… Let’s think about that. For an African leader, losing power is like
playing Russian roulette with two loaded chambers and four empty
ones. If they happen to pull the trigger on the first or second chamber
in the barrel, they will either never go home, or lose their freedom, or
even die. That credible risk creates a strong incentive for leaders to
cling to power rather than taking any chances. Ruthless repression
becomes rational. Election rigging seems like the most obvious thing
in the world. Mitt Romney might have behaved a bit differently if los-
ing the presidential election meant he could be dragged through the
streets of Salt Lake City by an angry mob or sent to rot in a dangerous
prison cell.
â•… In short, unless a more enticing incentive comes along to break that
line of thinking, we shouldn’t be surprised that rulers like Robert
Mugabe of Zimbabwe (in power since 1987) or José Eduardo dos
Santos of Angola (in power since 1979) are willing to do just about
anything to avoid stepping down. To avoid the risk of losing power, they
badly overstay their welcome. Some 83 per cent of Zimbabweans and
€

85 per cent of Angolans have never even been alive to see a different
€

leader in power; their despots are all they know of what politics entails.
The same is true for more than half the population in eight other
African countries.5

112
GOLDEN HANDCUFFS
â•… This hurts democracy in three ways. First, if presidents refuse to
relinquish power, democracy obviously cannot take root. If the people
can’t fire their leader, the system cannot be democratic. Second, when
83 per cent of the population has only known an authoritarian ruler
€

like Robert Mugabe, the succession process is less likely to be a seam-


less democratic success. After all, if eight out of ten people have never
lived under a system of political pluralism or democratic accountabil-
ity, the shift into that system requires a completely new form of politi-
cal socialization. The negative legacy of overstaying despots may there-
fore be generational, lingering well after they leave office (or, as is
more likely with Mugabe or dos Santos, they die). This has played out
in disastrous ways in Libya, where today’s chaos was made more likely
by the fact that Gaddafi had been in power for forty-two years, stran-
gling the political life of his country and ensuring that any post-Gaddafi
period would be exceptionally volatile.
â•… Third, recent scholarship has shown that countries that punish their
leaders after they step down are more likely to succumb to a failed
transition to democracy, a reversal of fortunes that ends right back at
square one: with an authoritarian despot.6 Dictators, despots, and
counterfeit democrats often abuse their office, steal from public cof-
fers, and violate human rights. They often deserve to be punished. But,
although it pains me to say it (and this is the cue for liberal idealists to
roll their eyes), sometimes, punishing a leader is the worse of two
evils. Just as it may arguably be justified to shoot down a civilian air-
liner if it’s about to crash into a stadium of 50,000 people, giving bad
leaders a cushier-than-they-deserve treatment to entice them to relin-
quish power is often the less bad option, ensuring that a grim situation
doesn’t morph into a grisly one.
â•… In perhaps a more apt analogy, awful rulers are akin to someone
who has hijacked the nation’s airplane. The people on board are all
victims of the regime. Allowing the leader to land safely and go unpun-
ished for the hijacking is a grave injustice to all of his or her victims,
but one that spares the people in the nation’s stadiums and skyscrapers.
If not managed carefully, cutting a deal for the hijackers could also
encourage future hijackings. But by contrast, staunch international and
domestic pressure that makes the president or prime minister paranoid
that they will lose office—with no safe way out—makes it more likely

113
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
that the plane will crash into a populated area, killing thousands of
others in the process.
â•… Haiti, the tiny nation occupying the western portion of Hispaniola
Island, has quite the habit of punishing its rulers after driving them out
of office. Two-thirds of presidents that left office in the last 115 years
have been exiled, jailed, or killed. In a particularly bloodthirsty period
between 1908 and 1915, Haiti’s departing leaders were, in order,
“exiled, exiled, bombed and blown up, imprisoned, exiled, executed,
exiled, and, particularly gruesome, ‘dragged from the French legation
by an angry mob and impaled on the iron fence surrounding the
Â�legation and torn to pieces.’”7 Governing Haiti required a generously
large life insurance policy—it still does. But in 1994, the United States
broke up the cycle, cutting a deal that was unsavory—to put it
mildly—but necessary to save Haiti from further bloodshed, conflict,
and political turmoil.
â•… In 1990, Haiti looked like it had turned a page on its violent, author-
itarian past. One of the worst despots in the region, “Baby Doc”
Duvalier, had been deposed, and fresh elections gave Haitians a new
hope that they could pick leaders who would rule by consensus forged
in consultation with public opinion, rather than death squads. The elec-
tion itself was widely heralded as a reasonably good one, in spite of the
logistical challenges that tend to plague election management in such
undeveloped nations. Jean-Bertrand Aristide won convincingly, garner-
ing the support of two out of three Haitian voters. Three out of four
Haitians voted. Aristide championed the plight of the poor, and began
ambitious reforms, claiming that his goal was to “transition [Haiti] from
misery to poverty with dignity.”8 The popular voice of Haitians began
to matter more and more, challenging the longstanding political domi-
nance of military factions and wealthy elites. Aristide was no angel by
any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed that democracy could at
least conceivably start to take root.
â•… Roots take time to grow, however, and Haiti’s sapling democracy
was cut down almost immediately. Aristide had only been in office for
eight months when a coup d’état overthrew him. On 29 September €

1991, soldiers fired on Aristide’s house. He was rescued by an armored


personnel carrier driven by loyal troops, and transported (accompa-
nied by the French ambassador) to the National Palace. The next day,

114
GOLDEN HANDCUFFS
at 5:30pm, a second attack succeeded and soldiers captured Aristide
inside the palace. They brought him before Lieutenant General Raoul
Cédras, the chief coup plotter. With Aristide listening, they discussed
whether to hang him on the spot, kill him later, or force him into exile.
Through fierce negotiations with the Venezuelan, French, and American
ambassadors, they reached the conclusion that Aristide’s death would
be an inconvenience to the new military junta, as it would attract too
much foreign consternation. Aristide was put on a charter flight to
Caracas to enter what would be a three-year period of exile.9
â•… Raoul Cédras took power. There were rumblings and allegations that
the CIA may have had a hand in the coup, but those claims have not
been substantiated. At a minimum, the United States did play a role in
Cédras’ training, as he was a graduate of the Department of Defense’s
notorious School of the Americas training program. Once in power,
Cédras went right back to the vicious playbook of Haitian political
brutality. The new government established its dominance not with a
new constitution but with blood. The night of the coup, hundreds of
protesters gathered on the Champ de Mars, in front of the National
Palace. As a column of soldiers drove past, the protesters cheered,
assuming that these were the loyalists, coming to quash the renegade
Cédras and his followers. Instead, the soldiers stopped, turned their
machine guns on the crowd, and opened fire. Hundreds were mur-
dered. In the following ten months, at least 1,021 extra-judicial execu-
tions took place; the true number may be as high as 3,000.10
â•… During this same period, the United States began a slow shift against
Cédras. Haiti was becoming more intertwined in the global drug trade,
a scourge that the Bush administration had vowed to stamp out.
Washington insiders began to worry privately that “support for the
coup leaders in Haiti could invite coups elsewhere in the hemisphere
and undermine Washington’s neo-liberal agenda for that region.”11 This
was an astute assessment, and a warning that has been forgotten. But
as the Washington elite turned against Cédras, and as Bill Clinton
replaced Bush, it became clear that something would need to be done
about the man himself; like most despots, he feared what would come
once he left office and therefore wasn’t willing to simply give up
power. There wasn’t much of an appetite in Washington for a full-blown
US invasion. It would invite serious risks, and given the immense and

115
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
unpopular 1993 Black Hawk Down debacle in Mogadishu, Clinton’s
administration was eager to avoid another foreign policy disaster—if it
could be avoided.
â•… In a late-twentieth-century version of gunboat diplomacy, Clinton
deployed massive warships and parked them just off Haiti’s shoreline.
The maneuver was aptly titled “Operation Uphold Democracy” for
maximum propaganda effect. As talk of an American invasion perme-
ated discussions in Port-au-Prince, Haiti also started rattling its
sabers—admittedly much stranger sabers than the American gunboats:
“We will fight and face the invader. Zombies in the first line and us
behind them.”12 The junta also promised that American GIs would be
attacked with HIV-infected syringes and repelled with voodoo spells
emanating from a houngan, or voodoo priest (the acting president, who
was a stooge for General Cédras, claimed to be one himself). They
warned that if American troops deployed, they would also face being
attacked by special plants that made skin peel off, unleashed by an army
of 60,000 invisible zombies.13
â•… On 8 September 1994, the invisible gloves came off. Two houngans
€

and four mambos (female voodoo priests) drew magical curses on the
sidewalk just outside the American embassy in the capital. Four days
later, in Washington, a red-and-white-liveried Cessna 150 flew over
America’s capital. The pilot, a disturbed truck driver from Maryland
who had almost certainly never heard of Cédras or houngans, made a
U-turn around the Washington Monument, and flew straight toward
President Clinton’s bedroom. He crashed at the base of the presidential
mansion.14 The pilot was killed, but nobody else was injured. For
superstitious Haitians in the junta, this was a clear sign: the voodoo
spirits were on their side.
â•… In spite of this belief in mysticism, President Clinton hoped that a
peaceful resolution could be reached by appealing to Cédras’ rational-
ity. The White House sent a diplomatic delegation to Haiti to negotiate,
including former president Jimmy Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and
General Colin Powell—a man who knew General Cédras personally
from his time training in the United States.15
â•… I don’t like or relish what happened next, but it was probably the
right move. Together, the US delegation offered Cédras a $1 million
golden parachute to leave power. Bizarrely, Cédras insisted that part of

116
GOLDEN HANDCUFFS
the deal include a commitment from the United States to rent out
three of his properties in Haiti, including his mother’s villa. American
taxpayers were on the hook essentially as diplomatic landlords, renting
Cédras’ home in Peguyville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, at a cost of
$4,000 a month.16 Just before 3:00am on 13 October 1994, a United
€

States military charter aircraft ferried General Cédras, his deputy,


Brigadier General Philippe Biamby, and fourteen of their family mem-
bers to Panama City to start a new life in exile. A second charter air-
craft brought twenty-three further family members and associates to
Miami, where they were given political asylum. That same day, the
White House announced the release of $79 million in assets held in
600 military officers’ bank accounts, which had been frozen as part of
diplomatic pressure against the regime.17
â•… These were not secret moves. They were executed out in the open,
by a presidential administration eager to ensure a peaceful return to
democracy rather than a prolonged military intervention and the desta-
bilizing bloodshed sure to accompany it. Anthony Lake, President
Clinton’s national security adviser, told reporters: “There is no bribe
here, there is nothing hidden here, there are no hidden inducements. I
am not apologetic in the slightest here. This is a success.”18 Cédras set
up shop in a palace in Panama City, then relocated to Contadora Island,
a retreat that had ironically previously been used by the Iranian Shah—a
man who also benefitted from a little American government help.19
â•… It may sound bizarre to identify as a “success” a ruthless and vicious
military regime and a bloody coup going unpunished, but Lake was
correct. It was an injustice, but a diplomatic victory. Rather than a
prolonged conflict, there was a reasonably smooth transition. President
Aristide, the elected leader, returned to power to finish his term. Haiti
still had immense problems and it did not become an exemplar of
democracy, but it did make several important steps toward a demo-
cratic system. The 1995 elections were flawed, in some ways severely,
but there was a peaceful transfer of power from Aristide to his succes-
sor, René Préval.Yes, it was still a counterfeit democracy, but the death
squads went away—at least for a while—and the Haitian people had
more of a meaningful voice in their government. Giving Cédras an exit
option wasn’t enough to give Haitians democracy, but it was enough to
give them a window of opportunity to seize it for themselves. The fact

117
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
that they did not effectively seize it does not negate the fact that the
attempt was worthwhile.
â•… The model of intervention in Haiti was nonetheless problematic, for
several reasons. The financial incentives were likely too generous given
Cédras’ crimes; the United States’ application of unilateral gunboat
diplomacy set a dangerous precedent of introducing geopolitical con-
siderations into such interventions (though it was at least bolstered by
the veneer of multilateralism under a UN Security Council resolution);
and the long history of American meddling in Haiti’s affairs under-
mines the claim that this was a purely principled foreign policy opera-
tion. But for $1 million (and whatever the price of violating our
Kantian sense of justice), Haiti was spared what was certain to be a
bloody and economically devastating showdown or the needless pro-
longation of a terrible, bloody regime. With Cédras gone, the political
situation improved markedly. It was, in my view, a bargain—even if I
have to hold my nose while writing that. How many millions of people
could have been spared from civil wars or foreign interventions in
recent decades if the leader had been offered a way out?
â•… Before I am accused of being an apologist for despots and thugs,
however, I think there’s room for something like the golden parachute
extended to Cédras that doesn’t commit a cardinal sin of diplomatic
politics: incentivizing war crimes and human rights violations. It
doesn’t take a political genius to realize that what I am proposing—and
what the United States did in Haiti—teeters on a very sharp razor’s
edge. If ruthless leaders around the world assume that they can commit
any number of horrendous crimes and then just hop on an all-expenses-
paid charter jet to a seaside villa with millions waiting for them in a
Swiss bank account, the world will become an even more bloody and
violent place than it already is. Ultimately, given my views on democ-
racy, I believe that this calibration, of political amnesty intended to
stave off conflict against the risk of incentivizing brutality, should be
made on a consensus basis, forged by governments around the world,
and not just in the West.
â•… However, I can imagine a three-tiered system that would allow for
more flexible transfers of power for the low- and mid-range despots,
while maintaining International Criminal Court prosecutions for the
worst of the worst. At the lowest level would be the approach taken with

118
GOLDEN HANDCUFFS
Cédras, the golden parachute: hold your nose, sign the deal, and the
leader gets away with it. It should be reserved for corrupt despots who
(unlike Cédras) didn’t viciously slaughter thousands. In Africa, the Mo
Ibrahim Foundation already offers this approach, providing a $5 million
“prize” for leaders that peacefully transfer power to a successor after
losing an election or reaching the end of their constitutionally mandated
term limit. (Unfortunately, the prize usually goes unclaimed.)
â•… Above the golden parachute would be the mid-level approach—the
one that should have been used for Cédras—or what I call “the golden
handcuffs.” Cédras was in a weak bargaining position and he was a
legitimately bad guy; the United States should have guaranteed his
safety, but forced him to agree to an asset forfeiture and a reasonably
long period of house arrest: enough to make him feel punished but not
enough to deter him from signing the deal.
â•… Then, International Criminal Court prosecutions should still func-
tion as a major deterrent, but one reserved for war criminals, perpe-
trators of genocide, and others whose actions are so abhorrent that no
level of utilitarian commitment can absolve the injustice of letting
them go unpunished. These are the worst of the worst, and the “moral
hazard” of letting them get away with their crimes is far more devastat-
ing than any failed transition could be, as it could spark copycats in
presidential palaces around the globe.
â•… In this vein, Laurent Gbagbo is an interesting case. The civil war that
he helped spark resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Ivoirians, but fighters
on both sides committed atrocities. Moreover, there seems to be only
tenuous evidence that Gbagbo personally authorized the types of bru-
tality that his soldiers executed, just as there is no “smoking gun” evi-
dence that his counterpart, Alassane Ouattara, authorized the atrocities
that his rebels committed. Gbabgo may be facing trial for war crimes,
but it’s worth debating where the threshold should be for ICC prosecu-
tion. Certainly, a fair global ranking of despots and dictators would not
have Gbagbo anywhere near the top of the “bad guy” list. ICC prosecu-
tion should therefore be carefully weighed against the potential benefits
of plucking a leader from power on a chartered flight to safety and
security. Ultimately, it’s a decision that should be made democratically
by a community of nations, but a re-calibration does need to take place.
â•… A three-tiered system would have another key advantage: the inter-
national community would have the opportunity to offer the golden

119
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
parachute, the golden handcuffs, or a one-way ticket to The Hague at
their discretion. This uncertainty is an advantage, because it would
mean that despots would still fear the consequences of their actions,
but diplomats would nonetheless retain the flexibility to prioritize sta-
bility for smaller and medium-sized fish in the international pond of
counterfeit democrats. Just as with the Cédras deal, the security and
safety guarantee should be predicated on a peaceful transfer of power
with the aim of holding quick but credible elections.
â•… Admittedly, the Haiti intervention was made possible, at least in
part, by American gunboat diplomacy. It was a lot easier for Jimmy
Carter and Colin Powell to play “good cop/bad cop” with warships
virtually casting shadows on the Haitian coastline. The calculus for
Cédras came into focus: take the golden parachute, or try your luck
with a lead one. If this is to become the modus operandi for future
guarantees of exile for embattled rulers who have overstayed their
welcome, then the mechanism for using the threat of force should be
multilateral, consensus-based, and granted the narrowest possible
intervention to get the job done. If it’s unrealistic to arrest the leader
without starting a major international war, then this strategy is not one
that’s worth pursuing.20 As with the strategy of “enforcing democracy”
outlined in the previous chapter, this is one possible option that should
be very much on the menu of possible interventions to help guide
despots out of power and democrats into it. However, to ensure that
such interventions do not transform into thinly veiled imperialist
adventures, the scope of intervention must be tightly controlled and its
legitimacy must be broadly agreed.
â•… If the golden handcuffs are offered wisely, they can shackle irrespon-
sible rulers rather than shackling their people with indefinite authori-
tarianism. The principle embedded in this unsavory utilitarianism can
be reinforced by the other principles argued previously; if Western
governments think about the long term, they will be less prone to
chasing short-termist and ultimately counterproductive attempts to
impose a sense of righteous justice, bringing the country down in the
process. The key is changing the leader’s political calculation, so that
the safety and security of exile seems more enticing than the inevitable
ruthlessness that must continue for them to remain in power.
â•… However, as with the Rwandan genocide, or Slobodan Miloševicc’s €

“ethnic cleansing,” or Bashar al-Assad’s reckless barrel bombing of civil-

120
GOLDEN HANDCUFFS
ian populations, eventually, horrible leaders arrive at a point of no
return where a golden parachute wouldn’t fly under the weight of their
crimes. In those instances, as with voodoo priests in Haiti, there may
be little room to use rational argument to convince them to step down.
But in a world where leaving office is like playing Russian roulette for
many of the world’s leaders, voluntary and democratic transfers of
power will not start to make rational sense until the costs of losing
office are lowered considerably.
â•… Twenty-seven current heads of state have been in power for more
than fifteen years. Thirteen of them have been in power for at least
twenty-five; they ruled when George H.W. Bush was president and the
€

Soviet Union still existed. The winner in this dubious contest of des-
pots overstaying their welcome is Paul Biya of Cameroon. He took
power during the Vietnam War, when Queen was atop the charts with
Bohemian Rhapsody, and has remained in charge for more than four
decades—edging out Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial
Guinea by just over four years. Some others are eager to break that
record. In 2011,Yahya Jammeh, the president of The Gambia, that tiny
sliver of land sandwiched within Senegal in West Africa, proclaimed: “If
I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will.”21 It’s a long road
from his current tally of twenty-two years to a billion, but everyone
loves a dreamer.
â•… Many others, such as Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, have not been in power for as long but are currently angling to
lift term limits to extend their time in office.22 The DRC is on a risky
precipice in the meantime. Kabila, and leaders like him, are prime can-
didates for a charter flight or a set of golden handcuffs. This approach
could be used to ensure that those who lose elections or reach their
constitutional term limits step down without a bloody fight.
â•… What comes next? Once the golden parachute has been deployed,
or the leader is wearing their golden handcuffs, what is to be done with
everyone else linked to the deposed regime? When a dictator, despot,
or counterfeit democrat falls, there remain hundreds, thousands, even
tens of thousands of elite members who are “tainted” by their affiliation
with the fallen leader. What is done with them has an incredibly impor-
tant influence on whether or not a democracy is likely to survive.
Surprisingly, more often than not, it’s better to extend an olive branch
to the remnants of dictatorship in order to salvage democracy.

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8

THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH

Principle 6: Encourage new democracies to include the old regime


during transitions
In November 2013, I met with Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Ahmed
in Tunis. His posture and short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair gave away
his army background.Yet he was not in uniform. This wasn’t by choice;
Ahmed had been stripped of his rank and kicked out of the Tunisian
officer corps. In 1991, Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had
accused Ahmed and 200 other officers of conspiring to overthrow his
regime and take power for themselves in an audacious coup d’état.
They called it the Barraket Essahel affair, named after the town where
the plotters allegedly hatched the scheme.
â•… There was just one problem: the whole thing was made up. There
was no plot. There was no coup. It was all a decoy, a pretext to allow
the dictator to crack down on legitimate opposition within Tunisia. Ben
Ali was worried about a coup being launched by either Islamists or
ambitious, competent military officers. To kill two birds with one
stone, he concocted the Barraket Essahel Affair to discredit both.
â•… Even though the plot was faked, the suffering it unleashed on sol-
diers like Lt Col Ahmed was all too real. As I sat across the table from
him and two fellow ex-officers who were also victims of this devious
dictatorial conspiracy, he told me how the harrowing ordeal unfolded.

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
They picked us up and drove us to the Ministry of the Interior, the scariest
building in Tunis. They say it’s as deep as it is tall. They didn’t tell us any-
thing about why we were there. But we were brought into the basement
and I was put in what they called the “roasted chicken” position, my body
suspended from a metal rod for hours. They beat me. They hung me from
my feet with my hands tied behind my back. They forced my face into a
basin of urine and feces until I thought I would drown.1
â•… Ahmed’s torture lasted off and on for three weeks. At the end of it,
he could no longer stand. He couldn’t eat because his lips were so
badly bruised and bloodied. Thoroughly battered, Ahmed was brought
before one of Ben Ali’s right-hand henchmen, Minister of the Interior
Abdallah Kallel. Ahmed’s insistence that he had not done anything
wrong only earned him further beatings. Then, inexplicably, Kallel
returned a week later and wished Ahmed a happy Eid al-Kabir—he was
released, with no explanation. The timing was fitting, as Eid al-Kabir is
a Muslim holiday recognizing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice himself
in submission to a higher authority.
â•… After his release, Ahmed’s nightmare continued. He was stripped of
his rank, pension, and uniform. The government intervened to make
sure that Ahmed and his compatriots could not find work. They took
away their passports. After such intense suffering, Ahmed understand-
ably harbors a simmering hatred for the people responsible for his
torture, and Ben Ali most of all. When Ben Ali was overthrown in the
January 2011 Arab Spring uprising, Ahmed and his fellow victims could
be forgiven for wanting to ensure that Ben Ali would never return. But
what about everyone else in Ben Ali’s regime? To wipe everyone from
Ben Ali’s political past out of Tunisia’s political future, as happened in
Iraq during the post-Saddam de-Ba’athification campaign, would mean
purging anyone who had been involved in Tunisian politics since 1987.
â•… “We need to exclude the former regime,” Ahmed told me, “so that
sturdy democratic structures can be put in place. Right now, the foun-
dation for Tunisian democracy is fragile.” It’s easy to be seduced by this
point of view. Ben Ali was a dictator. His entourage and those that
worked in his system were shaped by it and supported the strongman,
at least publicly. But this type of affiliation isn’t the same as being
tainted by partisanship in the West. Being a Democrat or Republican,
Tory or Labour, involves much more choice. For anyone who was

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THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH
interested in a career in Tunisian politics between 1987 and 2011,
becoming a cheerleader for a despot was the only game in town. The
opposition was virtually non-existent for much of Ben Ali’s reign.
â•… As a result, in the wake of the dictator’s downfall, members of the
old regime found allies and advocates in unexpected places. There were
moderate voices coming from people who should have been much
more radically opposed to the old regime. But, somehow, Tunisians
who had suffered horrifically under Ben Ali’s yoke found forgiveness
for his entourage and for those who had perpetuated his system of
oppression. Tunisians were mature enough to realize that the system
rotted from the head, but perhaps not from the body. They understood
that purging the old guard completely would also mean purging
Tunisia’s hopes for future prosperity.
â•… As the world’s second largest producers of olive oil, Tunisians know
a thing or two about olive branches. At a crucial moment, the Islamists
who came to power after the Arab Spring rose above the political fray
and did something truly remarkable: they extended one to former
regime officials who had previously been complicit in persecuting,
jailing, and torturing them.
â•… On a sunny autumn day in late 2013, I hopped in a taxi to meet with
Said Ferjani, an Islamist political leader in Tunis. That day remains one
of the most vivid emotional juxtapositions I’ve experienced in my trav-
els. On the way to meet with the eminent Ferjani, I was practicing my
Arabic with the cab driver, who turned out to be a jovial 53-year-old
divorcé named Bashir. When I told him I was American and that I was
in Tunis to learn about the political situation, he lit up—but much
more about the former comment then the latter. “Politics is boring.
Ben Ali was bad. What we have now is bad. But you are American. Tell
me,” he said, lowering his voice, “do you know any young, crazy, blonde
American girls I could add on Facebook?” I laughed and told him I
would have to think about it. “Okay,” he said conspiratorially, “but just
remember, put the ones that speak Arabic—or at a minimum French—
at the top of the list.” I was still shaking my head and laughing as I
exited the cab and walked up to meet Ferjani. I didn’t know that it
would be one of the most serious and memorable interviews of my life.
â•… More than anyone I’ve encountered in Tunisia, Said Ferjani is a walk-
ing parable for why Tunisia’s democracy has continued to grow while

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
that of the other Arab Spring nations has withered and returned to the
barren soils of dictatorship, conflict, or both. Ferjani grew up poor. He
became a devout Muslim, even though Tunisia’s politics at the time was
unapologetically secular. He watched as President Habib Bourguiba
sipped orange juice on TV during the fasting month of Ramadan, delib-
erately flaunting his disdain for Islamic customs. That moment of alien-
ation spurred Ferjani to join a group of Islamic activists and intellectu-
als.2 They dreamed of a different path for Tunisia, one that eschewed
secularism and replaced it with the Prophet’s teachings.
â•… In 1987, when Bourguiba fell seriously ill, Ferjani plotted a coup
attempt with several of his Islamist colleagues. But they were beaten to
the punch. Just seventeen hours before they were planning to carry out
the attack, Ben Ali took power instead in a putsch of his own. The
Islamist plot was exposed. Yet unlike the Barraket Essahel Affair, this
coup attempt was not a pretext or a fantasy.3
â•… Ferjani and his co-conspirators were arrested. Like Ahmed, they
were tortured. The beatings and abuse broke Ferjani’s back, but not his
will. He went into a coma for five days, but eventually recovered
enough to be released. After leaving prison, Ferjani vowed to escape
Tunisia and only return when a new regime was in power—a regime
under which he could be himself and actively participate in the politics
of his own country. He learnt to walk short distances, even though he
was confined to a wheelchair, the lingering effects of torture. Ferjani
had a friend drive him to the airport, borrowed his passport, and
walked convincingly enough through the searing pain so as not to
arouse suspicion at the passport control check or the gate. The plane
took off, and he was free. Ferjani established a new life in Britain.4
â•… Twenty-two years later, a vegetable vendor in the deprived region
of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire in protest against Ben Ali’s authoritar-
ian rule. The Arab Spring germinated out of those ashes, uprooting Ben
Ali in the process. When Ben Ali fell in 2011, Ferjani returned after
more than two decades in exile. He became a top official in the
Ennahda party, an Islamist political venture aimed at bringing political
Islam into Tunisia’s mainstream, reversing decades of persecution.
Ferjani had faced a long and challenging road to get to this point, so
when I met him at his home in Tunis, I expected him to share Lt Col
Ahmed’s opinion: everyone tainted by Ben Ali must go, and never

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THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH
return. When I walked up to his door, and saw Ferjani’s imposing fig-
ure, silvery hair, and an even more silver traditional Islamic beard, I
assumed I was in for an earful about the need to exorcise Ben Ali’s
lingering presence from the current generation of Tunisian politics.
â•… My assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. When I
entered his home, Ferjani’s stern exterior transformed into a warm
smile and an enthusiastic handshake. For a man who had been tortured,
Ferjani was somehow positively jovial. It was contagious. It was hard
not to smile back at him when he was laughing and telling me about his
turbulent past, but things got more serious—and intriguing—as he
turned toward Tunisia’s future. Vengeance for past wrongs was the last
thing on his mind. “For us,” he told me, “the success of the democratic
process is dearer than Ennahda itself; this is not negotiable. Patience is
key in a transition. We are conscious of the fact that any mistakes now
could make democracy reversible.”
â•… I’ve spoken to hundreds of people across the globe who, like Ferjani,
know how to say the right thing when Western ears are listening. So, I
have to admit that I was skeptical, at least at first. I pressed him. Rosy
rhetoric was easy. Successful transitions are hard. Wasn’t he eager to
see a widespread purge, as some in his party were advocating? Didn’t
he want revenge for the injustices of the past?
â•… In fact, Ferjani insisted the opposite. “We have to study the old
regime. The old structures were homogenous and coherent. When you
get rid of the head, the rest must remain intact.” In other words, Ben
Ali had to go, and perhaps some of his closest confidants, but nobody
else. While some in his party (and more extreme Islamist parties)
drafted and pushed a so-called “Immunization of the Revolution” law
aimed at purging the old guard from Tunisian politics once and for all,
Ferjani resisted. This was not because he harbored any hidden affections
for those who had propped up a dictator responsible for persecuting
and then torturing him and his fellow Islamists, but because he under-
stood a difficult truth: new democracies need the expertise of old
despotism in order to succeed.
â•… And, making good on what turned out to be much more than empty
words, Ferjani’s party, Ennahda, did something that political scientists
usually assume is impossible: they voluntarily gave up power. At a time
of political crisis, Ennahda handed over the keys to the country to a

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
group of technocrats.5 This wasn’t a ploy or a trick. It was Ferjani and
his cohort making good on what he told me: that the success of the
democratic process was more important than Ennahda itself. That self-
less act may have saved Tunisia’s fragile democracy.
â•… However, Ennahda still had a critical voice in Tunisia’s parliament,
and some were still calling loudly for a total purge of Ben Ali’s entou-
rage—and anyone who could be tarred with that label. Yet when it
finally came to the fateful vote on whether to exclude or include the
remnants of the fallen dictatorship, Ennahda was savvy. It knew that
while many of its members could not possibly vote in favor of inviting
the unpopular vestiges of Ben Ali’s regime back into Tunisia’s political
life, they could avoid voting altogether. When the tally came in, the
situation was tense. 100 had voted for the bill, twenty-seven had voted
against, but an astonishing forty-six MPs had abstained. A two-thirds
majority was required for the law to pass, and so it failed—just.6
â•… When transitions fail, everyone looks for the smoking gun. What
went wrong? Could it have been avoided? This seemingly banal vote
was the moment that saved Tunisia’s democratic transition. But instead
of a smoking gun, it was the steady hand of men like Ferjani that
stopped Tunisia’s political elite from pulling the all-too-tempting trig-
ger. Why did this vote matter so much? Would it really have been so
bad if the law had passed and anyone affiliated with Ben Ali had been
cast aside to allow a new generation of committed democrats to take
the reins alone?
â•… The answer, quite simply, is yes. My doctorate focused on precisely
this question: what happens when political elites are excluded from
politics? The answer is harrowing. It increases the risk of future coups
and civil wars considerably. Moreover, during transitions—what
Ferjani called “the most painful and difficult process in the political life
of any nation”—the fledgling political structures are fragile. Any self-
inflicted wound can be fatal.
â•… As a result, extending an olive branch to the remnants of a toppled
dictatorship may be a critical step in reinforcing nascent democracy.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it also seems to be correct. Libya
and Iraq took a different approach and both quickly fell apart—in the
wake of the Political Isolation Law in Libya, and the de-Ba’athification
process in Iraq. There are three reasons for including the old guard, to
stave off instability, conflict, and a return to authoritarianism.

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THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH
â•… First, after decades in power, people affiliated with the old regime
are almost always the people who wield the most authority, influence,
and money in the post-authoritarian state. Excluding them outright
ensures that the most powerful people in a given society will have a
strong incentive to undermine the new state. If you want to doom a
transition, make sure that the richest, most powerful class in society
wants it to fail because they are sure to be left out of it.
â•… Second, the old guard may be authoritarian, but it is also often the
only cadre of people that understands how to run the country. Ben Ali
had been in power since 1987; Gaddafi since 1969; Saddam Hussein since
1979. As mentioned in the previous chapter, a sizeable proportion of
African citizens have only experienced life under a single president.
Shattering those longstanding regimes and then excluding the people
who made the system function is a surefire recipe for chaos spawned by
avoidable amateur mistakes. This is less of a problem in democracies
because there are established opposition parties that have expertise and
often have previously occupied positions within government. But in
authoritarian states, that is not the case; being an opposition figure in Ben
Ali’s Tunisia or Gaddafi’s Libya was not just a dangerous game, it was also
one that provided no real experience of governing.
â•… In Tunisia’s transition, a constant critique of Ennahda, usually made
by their political rivals, was that the Islamists didn’t have a clue how to
run things because most of their leaders had spent the Ben Ali years
either in prison or in Paris and London living in exile. As Ferjani’s
experience attests, there is some truth to this. But Ennahda was mature
enough to recognize this truth, and reached out to those with exper-
tise, rather than shunning them and attempting to force them into exile
or jail too. It turned out that many members of the old guard had
harbored serious reservations about Ben Ali and his authoritarian sys-
tem; when they were liberated from his top-down leadership, they
made clear that they too wanted a democratic Tunisia to succeed. They
worked to support it. The old regime’s expertise continues to help
Tunisia navigate the choppy waters of transition.
â•… Third, including old guard politicians in future elections defuses
volatility and disarms ex-authoritarian candidates without turning
them into political martyrs. My research shows clear evidence that
inclusive elections lower the risk of a coup or a civil war. Conversely,

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
these two risks are roughly doubled when major political candidates
are excluded from elections.7 The reason for this is simple. People who
used to occupy positions of authority are well equipped to rally sup-
port, particularly drawing on their links with military and ex-military
figures of the toppled regime. Now, nobody would suggest that Ben Ali
should have been allowed to stand for election after he was felled by a
popular uprising; after all, his ability to rig elections and manipulate
the system in his favor had been crucial to his longevity on Tunisia’s
throne. If invited back, his old playbook would be invaluable as he
worked to re-assert himself. Beyond that highest level, though, most
top officials, and everyone else, should be allowed to run for office.
Not only is it more democratic, it’s also more effective at neutralizing
the old regime. When old guard candidates are included in a demo-
cratic transition, they often simply lose elections, and lose badly.
â•… Less than a year before Tunisia’s 2014 presidential elections, I met
with Kamel Morjane, who served under Ben Ali as minister of defense
from 2005–10 and minister of foreign affairs from 2010–11. Morjane
was one of the men most closely linked to Ben Ali’s later years in office.
He was complicit in the dictatorship but certainly not an all-around
bad guy: he worked for decades for the United Nations High Com�
missiÂ�oner for Refugees, and lamented to me: “I almost was the pick for
the UN High Commissioner, but I narrowly missed being nominated
because of petty politics.” So, instead of fighting for refugees, he
became part of Ben Ali’s ruling core.
â•… I would certainly understand if people like Said Ferjani or Lt Col
Ahmed wanted to ensure that Kamel Morjane never set foot in govern-
ment again. Nonetheless, he was allowed to run for Tunisia’s highest
office. He formed his own political party, al-Moubadara, or “The
Initiative.” In the presidential campaign, Morjane ran hard and lost
badly. He came in a distant sixth, earning just 41,000 votes—a measly
1.27 per cent of the total. Instead of making enemies of powerful men
€

like Morjane, Tunisia’s inclusive democracy allowed him to stand freely,


and let the people decide—they rejected him. And that, ultimately, was
a far savvier move than giving the former of minister of defense any
shred of an incentive to turn to men with guns for help in undermining
the new democratic Tunisia. Plus, nothing cuts an old guard politician
down to size like 1.27 per cent of the vote.
€

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THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH
â•… Unlike Morjane, though, most old guard figures who wanted to re-
enter politics under a new banner joined another party, Nidaa Tounes, or
Tunisia’s Call. Yet the party was not simply a revamped version of the
former regime; it was a hodge-podge of Ben Ali’s toppled entourage
mixed with ex-communists, socialists, secular liberals, exiles, and intel-
lectuals. They were unified primarily by their opposition to political
Islam, but not much more. Nébil Karoui, a key member of the Nidaa
Tounes leadership, told me when we met in London recently:
Nidaa Tounes was never designed to be a party, really, it was more of a
Noah’s Ark. We just threw all the species into the same boat. We’ve had our
disagreements, because we had tigers alongside gazelles and they were
sometimes tempted to try eating each other, but overall, it has still worked.
â•… Indeed, the creation of Nidaa Tounes represented a major boon to
Tunisia’s political future. Some extremists within the Islamist ranks
predicted that this would be the party to usher in a return to authori-
tarianism “through the back door,” but that has not materialized—at
least not yet. Instead, in the wake of elections that Nidaa Tounes won
handily, the party reached out to the Islamists and made an agreement
to govern by consensus in coalition.8
â•… This spirit of cooperation earned Tunisian civil society the Nobel
Peace Prize in 2015. It was truly well deserved. But Tunisian democ-
racy could still be uprooted, even as it grows slowly but steadily. Tunisia
is in a bad neighborhood, surrounded by a collapsing Libya on one side
and a despotic Algeria on the other. The transition to democracy has
been so successful that extremists have flooded out of Tunisia, which is
one reason why the country has provided the largest number of foreign
fighters to ISIS in Syria; it will be yet another challenge for Tunisia to
work out how to deal with them if, or more likely when, they try to
return in their thousands. Within Tunisia itself, two 2015 terrorist
attacks against Western tourists, one in the Bardo Museum in Tunis and
the other on the popular picturesque beaches of Sousse, have destroyed
the tourism sector and therefore crippled the economy.9 The Tunis
coastline, which used to be dotted with hulking cruise ships, is now an
uninterrupted sea of shimmering blue and white—peaceful and pictur-
esque, but not lucrative. Job growth is projected to be worse in 2016
than it was in 2015, and worse in 2017 than in 2016. If the economy
fails, democracy could too.

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… So on a cold, blustery day in February 2016, I met with Ferjani
again to discuss Tunisia’s uncertain future, this time in London. We
met outside Baker Street Tube station, his silver hair obscured by a
brand new newsboy cap, the tag freshly lifted off the plaid wool. “I
bought this one just now,” he explained. “I am no longer used to this
weather,” he added with a sheepish smile. His twenty-two years of
rainy exile were over—but it had been a long and painful road. As we
walked over to a Pizza Express opposite the station for a quiet (and
warmer) place to chat, I still couldn’t fully wrap my mind around
what he had told me three years earlier: that he was ready to work
with people who had, at a very minimum, been complicit in his tor-
ture. I asked him to tell me now, five years after the Arab Spring, how
he was confronting his past and reconciling it with his consensus-based
vision for Tunisia’s future. I suggested that it must be difficult to put
the past completely behind him.
â•… “Look,” he said, pausing to think about how to phrase his answer, “in
my left leg I have paralysis still sometimes. When I sleep, if I turn over
in the night, I wake up from the excruciating pain. One of my verte-
brae is still badly damaged. My wife and children were harassed con-
stantly. Anyone who talked to me, anyone who knows me, they were
made to suffer just to get to me. I still feel guilty about that.”
â•… Ferjani paused again, his voice breaking as it trailed off. He resumed,
haltingly. “Once I was in exile, I wrote a letter to the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees, asking for help being reunited with my
family. I remember the letter like I wrote it yesterday. The title I gave it
was ‘When death has become a wish,’ because I had suffered so much and
the situation seemed so hopeless that I was ready to welcome death.”
â•… As Ferjani spoke, I had been scribbling feverishly, wanting to be sure
of capturing every word. Suddenly, he was silent. I looked up. His
hands were covering his face. He was crying, but shielding his tears
from me. Those dining at the tables around us looked up from their
pizza, totally unaware of why this imposing figure had broken down in
their midst. Wiping away his tears as he looked back up at me after a
moment, he regained his fierce sense of purpose. “I never let anyone
see me do that,” he said, “because I don’t ever want anyone from the
old regime or from any authoritarian state around the world thinking
that they can break people like me. They can’t.”

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THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH
â•… Ferjani meant it. Even after everything he has been through, he
rejects vengeance.
Ben Ali misused power against me because he couldn’t accept anyone that
wanted something different for Tunisia. I vowed to never do the same if I
ever had power. I leave it to the hereafter to make their judgment; the best
thing is to leave it to the most just of all: God. For now, I differentiate
between the old regime and the people that were in it. They are not the
same, and I reject the view that there is some black and white, that we are
good guys and they are bad guys. It is more complicated than that.
â•… Ferjani is right; the world of politics is a lot more complicated than
a black-and-white world of good and bad. Ferjani himself, of course, in
spite of my portrayal here, has flaws. But the consistent embodiment of
compromise and consensus, in someone who has every reason to shun
both, is a truly remarkable feature of Tunisia’s transition, and it is a
parable for the lone success story—thus far—of the Arab Spring.
Somehow, against all odds, Tunisian democracy plods forward, old and
new working together.
â•… So far, Tunisia has chosen to extend an olive branch to members of
the former regime. That was a wise and important choice. But other
countries may not show the restraint necessary to follow suit. For
every Tunisia, there are several Iraqs and Libyas, where the cycle of
vengeance consumes democratic change. This should be a key lesson of
Tunisia’s success and one therefore embedded in Western foreign pol-
icy. Diplomatic pressure, consistently, subtly, and intelligently applied,
can help ensure that other nations take the Tunisian high road and
extend an olive branch to the felled branches of the old regime. Only
then, together, can truly lasting democracy take root.
â•… When Ferjani and I finished talking, I paid the bill, got up, and shook
his hand. On the way out the door, I asked him where he was heading
next, on his final day in London visiting friends and family before
returning back to Tunis. “Edgware Road,” he answered, “I’ve got an
X-ray for my knee again and they’re going to check out my vertebrae
and hopefully check if it has deteriorated since my last visit.” With that,
we parted ways, as he set off to heal wounds inflicted by a despot in
1987 so that he could return to build democracy in 2016.

133
9

FOOL’S ERRANDS

Principle 7: Don’t waste money.Target reformers instead.


In January 2010, six months into a tumultuous period of post-election
protests in Iran, Voice of America announced that it had developed a
tailor-made, state-of-the-art new iPhone app to help the Iranian
people raise their collective digital voices against the oppressive
regime. With the new app, it was argued, Iranian “citizen journalists”
could directly upload their photos and videos to a server so that
abuses could be easily documented and beamed around the world. It
was a well-intentioned idea.
â•… There were several problems. First, due to sanctions championed by
the United States itself, it was illegal for Apple to sell its iPhones in
Iran. Second, the App Store—necessary to buy and download apps—
therefore didn’t exist in Iran. Third, at the time, the only mobile car-
rier of iPhones worldwide was AT&T—which didn’t operate in Iran.
Even if an Iranian “citizen journalist” had managed to smuggle an
iPhone into the country and unlock it for use on alternative data net-
works, there were none in Iran at the time that would have supported
iPhone data transmission. So, the app could still be useful, but only if
the user had an active Wi-Fi connection. But at that point, the savvy
citizen journalist who had smuggled an iPhone into Iran, unlocked the
phone, and found an alternative source from which to download it,
could just use a laptop or a desktop computer to upload the images.1

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… It was therefore difficult to imagine how the app provided anything
of value even to the most determined citizen journalist in Iran’s failed
Green Revolution protest movement. Voice of America never publicly
disclosed how much it paid the app’s developer, Intridea, to develop
the product, but it was almost certainly a sizeable sum. It was a poetic
and poignant mistake, illustrating broader failures of democracy pro-
motion: one wing of geopolitically driven democracy promotion (sanc-
tions against Iran) ensured that the effort from another (an iPhone app)
simply wasn’t feasible. But the two did not coordinate, and so the fund-
ing was disbursed to no effect.
â•… This obviously misguided effort was a drop in democracy promo-
tion’s bucket of wasted money. Of course, I do not believe that pro-
moting democracy is not worthwhile; in fact, I believe that Western
governments would be well served if they expanded funding in support
of democracy around the globe. But the way that money is targeted and
the programs that it funds need to change in two important ways.
â•… First, assessments of cost effectiveness need to gravitate away from
the mentality of “moving the money” without meaningful results.2 It
doesn’t much matter that 200 parliamentarians attend a luncheon
training session on the rule of law if the regime can simply steamroll
parliament and override the rule of law. Nobody would suggest that it
would be a worthwhile expenditure to run a multi-million-dollar
training workshop on political party development in North Korea. All
the training North Korea’s elites need comes through their ears:
instructions from the top officials and Kim Jong-un himself. On the
other hand, such training programs can be extremely useful in places
where political elites are open to democratic principles.
â•… Therefore, which countries receive assistance is a particularly
important question. Recent scholarship by Jennifer Gandhi of Emory
University and others has demonstrated that some savvy dictators use
their parliaments as a means to expand their grip on power, rather than
as a meaningful check on the regime’s will.3 Western support for those
parliaments can, at times, unintentionally play into the hands of an
authoritarian elite. At other times, though, the programs are a mis-
guided use of funds from the start.
â•… In October 2014, for example, USAID announced $216 million in
funding for a five-year venture aimed at empowering Afghan women,

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FOOL’S ERRANDS
by ensuring that they will be included in the next generation of
Afghanistan’s political elite. Additionally, the project aimed to garner
an additional $200 million in funding from supportive Western govern-
ments, for a total expenditure of $416 million.4 This is an extremely
important goal and one that I wholeheartedly support. The world
would be a much better place if more women were involved in politics,
from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But, according to John F. Sopko, €

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, it is likely


that “Afghan women engaged in the program may be left without any
tangible benefit upon completion.”5 Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula
Ghani, echoed his concerns in even more scathing language: “I do hope
that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and
sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions
generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else.”6
â•… Unfortunately, those fears seem to be justified. Even if they were
not—even if the program were implemented perfectly and the women
involved benefited—there is a reasonable question to ask: is the spend-
ing cost-effective? Is it good value? Well, as of 2014, the World Bank
estimated that the per capita GDP of Afghanistan was $634.7 The joint
USAID program is slated to cost $416 million to help “empower”
75,000 women. In other words, Western taxpayers will be spending
about $5,545 per woman in the program, equivalent to almost nine
years of wages for the average Afghan. Moreover, with just 75,000
women targeted, the program will, at best, reach one in every two
hundred Afghan women, or 0.5 per cent of the female population. The
€

program has an absolutely admirable goal. I believe in the long, slow


process of democratization by education as much as I believe in
empowering women—and other disempowered groups—to become
more involved in politics. But given the global scarcity of democracy
promotion resources, the program was simply misguided, because of
its feasibility, not its laudable intentions.
â•… Moreover, when the inspector general began asking questions about
this specific program’s funding, the answers he got back were trou-
bling. In a letter sent to USAID, he lamented that:
despite multiple requests, USAID could not provide the audit team a list
of all the agency’s projects, programs, and initiatives intended to support
Afghan women, or how much the agency spent on each effort. USAID was

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also unable to provide data demonstrating a causal relationship or correla-
tion between the agency’s efforts to support Afghan women and improve-
ments in Afghan women’s lives.8
â•… The main contractors used by the program were Chemonics,
Development Alternatives Inc., and Tetra Tech. All three are for-profit
contractors.
â•… Women certainly deserve to be empowered in Afghanistan, where
the human rights situation for women is indeed dire and worthy of
significant Western attention and consternation. But the real problem
is two-fold; first, Afghanistan is facing a serious insurgency from Taliban
forces that are taking over significant swathes of territory in the coun-
try. If that advance continues, women will suffer far more than men—
and not just in terms of political rights—regardless of their empower-
ment training. Second, the current government is not democratic. So
even if the program does successfully empower 0.5 per cent of the
€

next generation of women to be involved in politics, they will become


involved in a system that is fundamentally rigged. Is that the best use of
$416 million? What are we thinking?
â•… A second change in approach also needs to occur: Western govern-
ments must roll back low-level democracy promotion efforts that pour
funding into regimes driven by an overt hostility to democratic reform.
I have outlined how the “Saudi Arabia Effect” compels Western govern-
ments to support strategically important despots rather than working
to undermine them by promoting genuine democracy. Yet in some
cases, Western governments disburse considerable resources aimed at
sowing the seeds of democratic change in places that are lost causes for
low-level democracy promotion programs. Countries like Saudi
Arabia, North Korea or Turkmenistan might become democratic in the
long term, but the catalyst is unlikely to come from Western training
programs for civil society.
â•… While I believe that Western governments should consistently pro-
mote democracy as a long-term geostrategic interest, above and beyond
competing short-term interests, I also recognize that it is unlikely to
happen anytime soon. So, at a minimum, for countries like Saudi Arabia
that are considered security imperatives where democracy is put on the
diplomatic backburner, I would at least recommend not wasting money
on half-hearted training programs aimed at democratic reform in a fun-

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FOOL’S ERRANDS
damentally undemocratic system. Those resources could be better spent
in countries that actually have an appetite for reform.
â•… Uzbekistan offers a compelling illustration of this problem. Western
governments are engaged in Quixotic democracy promotion there, tilt-
ing at authoritarian windmills rather than investing strategically in
democracy where there are more realistic prospects for change. Until his
death on 2 September 2016, the twenty-five-year president of
Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, was one of the world’s most ruthless dicta-
tors. Some 10–12,000 so-called “dissidents” have been jailed, but they
are clearly political prisoners.9 The litany of human rights abuses perpe-
trated by Karimov’s regime reads like a horror story of history, featuring
barbaric practices that ended elsewhere hundreds of years or even a mil-
lennium ago. With startling parallels to slavery in the American South,
right down to the same commodity, thousands of university students—
and even small children—are conscripted to pick cotton each year.10 In
2003, an inquest by Western governments into the deaths of two detain-
ees who had died in custody revealed that they had been boiled alive.
When the disfigured bodies were returned to the families of the victims,
the families found that the victims’ fingernails had been ripped off before
they were boiled.11 There are thousands of documented cases from
Karimov’s secretive regime that showcase a systematic pattern of state-
sponsored torture and abuse that seems straight out of a medieval trag-
edy rather than a modern political system. Some practices would even be
amusing for their strange novelty if the stakes weren’t so high for the
people involved. In one particularly bizarre case, an inmate’s prison sen-
tence was extended because he had committed the grave offense of
“incorrectly peeling carrots” in the prison kitchen.12
â•… Against this backdrop, the idea of democracy taking root while
Karimov was in power-or, indeed, soon after his death-is clearly an
absurd farce. As Freedom House notes, “Uzbekistan’s constitution
enshrines the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and participation in
politics.”13 Yet in practice, none of these freedoms exist and the police
state eagerly silences anyone attempting to exercise such rights. The par-
liament is a rubber-stamp for the regime’s will; the judiciary is a tool of
the state that is often used to silence its opponents; corruption is ram-
pant, as Uzbekistan’s rulers routinely partner with organized crime.
â•… Corruption is even part of family life in the ruling regime. Take
Karimov’s own daughter, Gulnara Karimova. She dabbled as a jewelry

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designer; as a diplomat representing Uzbekistan at the United Nations,
based out of a $20 million villa in Geneva; and as a self-proclaimed
political scientist (before her father banned political science completely
in Uzbekistan, in September 2015).14 But that wasn’t enough, so
Karimova set out to become an international pop star. She recorded
with legendary Spanish star Julio Iglesias, convinced Sting to perform
a controversial concert in Uzbekistan in 2009, and aimed to make her
own ascent up the international music charts. She opted for the stage
name of GooGoosha, allegedly because it was her father’s pet name for
his beloved daughter. Her first major music video, for a song called
Unutma Meni, or “Don’t Forget Me”, features a surreal computer-gen-
erated dreamscape involving an expensive baby blue sports car flying
through the air toward a mythic golden city—a wonderfully apt reflec-
tion of her opulent lifestyle, floating high above the oppressed people
of Uzbekistan.
â•… In 2014, that dream lifestyle came crashing down. GooGoosha was
accused of taking $1 billion in bribes, largely from Scandinavian and
Russian telecommunications giants, in return for guaranteeing access to
the Uzbek market. She required telecoms businesses to give her a 26
per cent stake in their investment in exchange for preferential treat-
€

ment.15 When the story broke, President Karimov broke ties with his
daughter over the embarrassing scandal and confined her to house arrest,
since which time nothing has been heard of her. In spite of her earlier
musical pleas not to forget her, it seems quite likely that GooGoosha will
be forgotten as she languishes away for bringing public disgrace to a
secretively disgraceful regime. Leaked diplomatic cables refer to the
famed GooGoosha as “the single most hated person in the country.”16
â•… This Shakespearean intrigue is indicative of a simple fact: democracy
is as plentiful in Uzbekistan as oxygen is in space. On Freedom House’s
scale of 1 to 7 (7 being most authoritarian), the best score that Uzbekistan
has managed on any indicator was a 6.75. It hasn’t budged from its over-
all score of 6.93 for years, though it has steadily and gradually gotten
worse since 2003, when it had a still dismal score of 6.46. In short, there
is every indication that this is not only a horrific a regime, but one that is
asphyxiating any remaining gasps of democracy over time.
â•… In spite of all this, Western governments still spend tens of millions
of dollars to “promote democracy” in Uzbekistan. The USAID webpage

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FOOL’S ERRANDS
on “Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance” in Uzbekistan touts
American democracy support funding that “strengthens organizations
that champion women’s issues, disabled rights, and the environment.”17
None of these efforts are likely to promote genuine democratic
reform. After all, perhaps the best thing for disabled rights nationwide
would be a regime that didn’t leave people wheelchair-bound after
being tortured by the government. Again, as with women’s rights in
Afghanistan, the plight of disabled people living in unsympathetic gov-
ernments is not an issue that should be ignored—far from it. Giving a
voice to the voiceless is a major aim of promoting democracy. But it is
worth asking the question: why are we funding these around-the-edges
human rights and governance reforms while still providing direct mili-
tary and financial assistance to a regime that boils people alive?18
Couldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere?
â•… One possible rationale for niche spending comes from the democ-
racy promoters themselves, who sometimes feel trapped by a system
that tends to allocate funding based on “feel good” programs that may
provide marginal benefits to the communities involved but fail to make
serious inroads toward democratic reform—at least not for decades.
They target deserving communities, but aim to help specific groups
rather than reforming the system more generally. One country direc-
tor of a major international NGO that works on democracy promotion
in the Middle East told me:
Each year when you’re making grant proposals, you have to figure out
which way the winds are blowing in the donor countries. Which programs
will get the most support this year? Last year it was disability rights. The
year before that it was youth outreach. The year before that was inclusion
of women. And once you figure it out, NGOs tend to make their grant
proposals accordingly.19
â•… This approach is problematic, not only because it can’t see the demo-
cratic forest for the trees, but also because it creates a disjointed strategy
that shifts its focus year to year, rather than committing to meaningful
long-term engagement. As Thomas Carothers, one of the world’s most
respected experts on democracy promotion, recently told me, “It’s
impossible to overstate the influence of short-term thinking in the field.
Anything looking two years into the future is considered ‘long-term.’”20

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â•… Others argue that Western governments need to work actively in
places like Uzbekistan because Western (and specifically American)
funding in Uzbekistan works to expand the presence of NGOs within
the country. As the American government claims, “USAID’s civic advo-
cacy program trains and supports more active NGOs in their efforts to
influence policymaking at the national level.”21 However, the few
NGOs that still exist in Uzbekistan are simply apologist stooges for the
regime, and the notion that anyone other than Islam Karimov has had
any say in influencing “policymaking at the national level” since inde-
pendence in 1991 is a joke.
â•… Whether it’s in Afghanistan or Uzbekistan or elsewhere around the
world, it’s easy to find programs that seem wasteful. What is more diffi-
cult, however, is figuring out how to spend the money more appropri-
ately and cost-effectively. At the heart of that debate is where to spend
the money. There are 196 countries in the world today. The United States
provides about $3–5 billion each year for promoting democracy, usually
around a quarter of what is spent globally. These are not fixed funding
levels; they ebb and flow. But hard tradeoffs do need to be made. In my
view, spreading the funding thinly and treating all countries as equal
prospects for democratic reform is misguided. By contrast, targeted
funding to countries that have an appetite for democratic reform can
make all the difference during a critical transition period.
â•… On this front, Tunisia is often touted as the closest thing there is to
a paragon in the field, as Western organizations like the International
Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute provided
crucial training to candidates, elected officials, and civil society orga-
nizations—helping them gain the technical expertise necessary to
guide a transition and avoid the pitfalls that derail young democracies
all too often.22 It helped having men like Said Ferjani and his moderate,
consensus-building counterparts in rival parties, but their efforts were
pushed forward by foreign support. It would be an enormous boon to
democracy in the Middle East if Tunisia thrives, setting a model that
can be replicated for other states in the region to follow.
â•… Similarly fruitful efforts have been replicated around the globe in
countries with a genuine appetite for democratic change. A milestone
2007 study published in World Politics found that democracy assistance
funding from Western governments did indeed have a strong and posi-

142
FOOL’S ERRANDS
tive impact on making recipient countries more democratic.23 But the
difference between somewhere like Uzbekistan and somewhere like
Ghana—one of the better performing African democracies—is that
the Ghanaian political system is receptive to reform. Both the ruling
government and the political opposition are willing to enlist foreign
sponsors to help iron out the wrinkles in the nation’s democratic tran-
sition and consolidation.
â•… For example, the Canadian government spent $2.5 million to help
support the Electoral Commission’s “Training of Candidates and Polling
Agents” project. The project successfully provided technical expertise to
twenty presidential candidates, their running mates, their campaign man-
agers, and more than a thousand parliamentary candidates around the
country. The program also reached 220,000 poll staff, the people on the
frontline ensuring the election’s integrity at the local level. The European
Union spent $2.5 million to help print sufficient ballot papers; earlier
elections marred by a shortage of ballot papers had been met by unrest
as voters (understandably) reacted to being disenfranchised for such an
avoidable reason. It was a comparatively tiny expenditure, but one that
made a tangible difference. Finally, the Dutch government helped orga-
nize presidential debates, while encouraging the major candidates to
strike a civil tone; they did, and the political climate calmed down con-
siderably from earlier hints of vitriol.24
â•… Together, foreign efforts to entrench Ghanaian democracy paid off;
the 2008 election was not perfect, but it was a model for how other
African countries could make significant improvements to their electoral
systems. Since 2008, Ghana has had a peaceful transition from a president
who died in office and a successful albeit imperfect presidential election
in 2012, and is currently on track to replicate that success in a 2016 vote.
Moreover, since 2008, the Ghanaian economy has grown at a breakneck
pace, averaging roughly 8 per cent growth from 2008–16, with a high of
14 per cent in 2011.25 Of course, there are myriad reasons for Ghana’s
comparative success in its transition toward genuine democracy, but it is
the type of country that is worthy of further support.
â•… In Chapter 5, I argued that high-level and low-level democracy pro-
motion needs to be coordinated so that diplomatic rhetoric and high-
level pressure matches strategies on the ground. Countries like Tunisia,
Ghana, Georgia, and Bolivia are all imperfect democracies that face
considerable challenges. This is a pivotal time for each of them, and

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
they will benefit from—and eagerly embrace—foreign support from
all echelons. They need both diplomats on their side (who also hold
their feet to the democratic fire), and training staff and technical
expertise. Between the two, they can transform a democratic transition
into a consolidated democratic pedestal to build upon. In these places,
individual programs have a reasonable chance of making a difference.
Money spent there is a good democratic investment. It’s a different
game in Uzbekistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and a
slew of other countries where programming for disenfranchised com-
munities is more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic;
empowering disabled people in Tashkent cannot stop them from being
oppressed, because the entire nation is under the yoke of a ruthless
authoritarian despot.
â•… There are therefore two possible solutions that could work for low-
level democracy promotion in dictatorial countries that seem like lost
causes. First, Western governments could stick to a grant-based
approach by directly funding local civil society organizations rather
than international NGOs that waste considerable amounts of funding
setting up offices and providing housing, security protection, and other
amenities to foreign staff. This is the approach used by the United
States National Endowment for Democracy and it could be continued
in places like Uzbekistan.26
â•… Alternatively, the United States could simply divert democracy and
governance funding from places with no demonstrated willingness to
reform. This is a difficult choice, because the West should not simply
leave oppressed Uzbeks or Turkmen to fend for themselves. But it is
questionable whether low-level democracy promotion is a worthwhile
expenditure when President Karimov’s successor is most likely to be
ousted, or to institute democratic reform themselves, if the West uses
high-level tools to pressure the regime. When funding push comes to
budgetary shove in democracy promotion allocations, it may—at
times—make sense to prioritize the Ghanas and Tunisias of the world
over the Uzbekistans.
â•… I could be completely wrong about all of this. And the reason for
that, as Thomas Carothers explained to me recently, is that:
Our democracy assistance programs were set up twenty or thirty years
ago and have been surprisingly static. There has never been a comprehen-

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FOOL’S ERRANDS
sive bottom-up review. The State Department, for example, doesn’t have
a very well thought out policy review process to figure out what works
best and what doesn’t work at all.27
â•… This, in short, is why programs like the doomed iPhone app in Iran,
or the $416 million scheme that provided “no tangible benefit” to
Afghan women, get funded in the first place. We are simply not entirely
sure what works when it comes to on-the-ground democracy promo-
tion, an example of what former US secretary of defense Donald
Rumsfeld would call a “known unknown.” That obviously needs to be
fixed, and a systematic review of spending should be enacted by the
United States and the European Union to ensure that every dollar
spent is spent well (while being careful not to micromanage with an
excess of bureaucratic hoops for organizations to jump through).
USAID is already moving in that direction, thankfully. But regardless
of the findings of any specific funding review, it’s safe to say that
Western governments need to be more careful about how they spend
scarce resources to promote democracy across the world—and to be
sure that they target those resources to places where funding has a
reasonable chance of catalyzing meaningful democratic change. Other�
wise, some of the West’s programs amount to a fool’s errand, bringing
expensive and marginal programming to countries where, at least for
the short- and medium-term, democracy is doomed to fail.
â•… In the meantime, we can take heart in the fact that the recently lifted
sanctions against Iran mean that Iranians can now easily access the
iPhone app store, allowing them not only to download the next itera-
tion of Voice of America software, but also any of the latest hits that
GooGoosha is able to upload from her time spent in house arrest.

145
10

THE CARROT

Principle 8: Use economic incentives to encourage democratization


and discourage despotism
In late 2015, I visited the infamous Corner House in Riga, Latvia. The
history of Latvia is closely intertwined with this single chilling struc-
ture, an Art Deco building that was KGB headquarters since before
World War II, when the Soviet intelligence services didn’t yet go by
that name. In 1940, as Soviet invaders began to overrun Latvia, General
Ludvigs Bolšteins sat at his desk on the fifth floor of the Corner House.
He wrote a simple note:
To my superiors:
We, the Latvians, built ourselves a brand new house—our country.
Now, an alien power wants to force us to tear it down ourselves.
In this I cannot take part.1
â•… Then, General Bolšteins put his revolver to his temple and pulled
the trigger; he was found slumped at his desk. Bolšteins’ warnings were
prescient; by 1941, the USSR had either murdered or deported 15,000
Latvians, massacring them or sending them to forced labor camps in
Siberia. In a single purge, Latvia’s political, economic, and cultural elite
ceased to exist.2
â•… The Nazis then took control of Latvia from 1941 until 1944. In
order to maximize local opposition to the Soviets, the Nazi regime

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
opened the Corner House to the public. What visitors discovered was
horrific. The dungeons in the basement were kept above 30 degrees
Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit); the cells were constantly flooded with
bright lights to inhibit sleep; and prisoners were randomly selected for
execution to keep everyone afraid that their turn could be next.3
â•… When the Soviet Union re-conquered Latvia in the final campaign
of World War II, the Corner House returned to business as usual. The
floors were painted red to conceal bloodstains. To get prisoners to talk,
they were sometimes hoisted onto hooks in the courtyard and left
suspended off the ground. When that didn’t work and execution was
chosen instead, KGB officers ran noisy car engines outside the doors
of the Corner House each morning—partly to obscure the sound of
gunshots from neighboring residents and partly so that the vehicles
were ready to transport the bodies quickly out of sight.4 On the exte-
rior facade of the Corner House, a nondescript postbox was installed.
Family members of the prisoners could enquire after their relatives—
were they still alive? And conspiratorial Latvians could slip in accusa-
tory notes, giving the KGB information about a possible dissident or
sowing suspicion against a personal enemy.
â•… Knuts Skujenieks was one prisoner who was lucky enough to escape
with his life. After he was discovered writing Latvian nationalist poetry,
his thick notebooks were confiscated and he was imprisoned. He spent
six months as a prisoner in the Corner House before being shipped off
to a forced labor camp in the Ural Mountains for the following six
years. His story is fairly representative of Latvians who were blacklisted
and arrested during the Soviet occupation of Latvia—at least the ones
who made it out.5
â•… Visiting the Corner House is a jarring experience. The haunting
authoritarian past permeating the decaying walls of the former KGB
headquarters is so distinctly at odds with modern Latvia. Riga today is
a beautiful city, with a thriving democracy, a booming economy, and
flourishing culture—home to the next generation following in the
footsteps of Knuts Skujenieks, as activist artists are now celebrated and
encouraged, rather than detained and deported. In the span of just
twelve years, Latvia went from life under the Soviet yoke to life as a
full-fledged member of the European Union. In 2014, Riga was
Europe’s Capital of Culture, an about-face from a time when writing
poetry was enough to earn a one-way ticket to Siberia.

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THE CARROT
â•… This stunning and sudden transformation was replicated elsewhere
in Central and Eastern Europe. But one of the major drivers of democ-
ratization in places like Latvia was the European Union’s extraordi-
narily successful program of political conditionality for accession. Put
simply, the policy that only democracies could join the European
Union enticed bordering states to become democracies. In Latvia,
there was already a strong drive for democracy right after the dissolu-
tion of the Soviet Union. The European Union’s insistence on maintain-
ing and consolidating democracy ensured that Latvian politicians never
took their eye off the prize; they knew that any backsliding away from
democracy would jeopardize their application to tap into the immense
benefits of being formally part of Europe. That is a strong carrot to
offer a country like Latvia. There is broad agreement among scholars
that this policy has been an unparalleled success—perhaps the most
successful democratization program in modern history. In this chapter,
I argue that the model should be expanded. Multilateral economic
incentives can be a major force for democratization—if they are con-
ceived and implemented carefully.
â•… Latvia’s transition to democracy was comparatively smooth. For other
European countries that had rockier transitions after the end of the Cold
War, the accession criteria focused political leaders to rally behind a
common purpose. Petty squabbles gave way to compromise for the sake
of democracy. As with any political transition, there were stops and starts
in places like Estonia, Bulgaria, and Romania as they vied for member-
ship, but by and large the pattern was the same: the economic carrot was
sufficient to ensure that a punitive stick was not necessary.
â•… In 1992, Latvia’s per capita GDP stood at $1,854, about $5 per day
per person. For comparison, Botswana’s per capita GDP at the time
was $1,000 higher than Latvia’s. By 2003, the eve of Latvia’s induction
into the European Union, things had improved, but not by much—to
just $4,890 per year, or $13 per day. Today, after just over a decade as
part of the European Union, the per capita GDP in Latvia is $15,375,
$42 a day, higher than Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, and Mexico,
and more than double Botswana’s.6 It didn’t take a genius during the
1990s to realize that joining the European Union had major economic
benefits for Central and Eastern Europe, which is why virtually every
prospective member state got its democratic ducks in a row as it was

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
being considered. Today, every country in the European Union is a
consolidated democracy—something that hardly seemed possible for
countries that were cleaved from the collapsing Soviet Union at the end
of the Cold War.
â•… Yet just as Latvia is emblematic of the EU’s dramatic pull, its capital,
Riga, was also home to an interaction that shows the limitations of
Europe’s stick for countries that veer away from democracy. In May
2015, a relatively minor EU summit was held in Riga. At the canned
and scripted photo-op, the president of the European Commiss�ion,
Jean-Claude Juncker, was smiling a canned, scripted smile as cameras
clicked away by the dozens. Then, in a surprisingly unscripted moment,
the bespectacled, gray-haired president turned to his colleagues and
said: “The dictator is coming.” On cue, Hungary’s president, Viktor
Orbán—who has been accused of dangerous authoritarian tendencies
as he rolls back democracy in Hungary—arrived on the scene. He
walked up to Juncker to shake his hand, but Juncker held up his hand
in an awkward salute, slapped Orbán’s hand, smiled, said “Hello
Dictator,” and then slapped Orbán’s face (sort of) playfully.7 The whole
uncomfortable incident was a telling window onto the frustrating lim-
its of the EU’s ability to corral wayward leaders within the Union back
toward democracy once they are tempted by authoritarianism. Beyond
the slap, there’s not much more.
â•… Orbán’s Hungary is worrying. But at first glance, Hungary’s acces-
sion to the European Union seemed promising. As with Latvia, the
economy expanded considerably in just over a decade, from a pre-
accession GDP per capita of $8,365 in 2003 to just under $14,000.8
Hungary seemed on track, matching its economic progress with a
democratic upswing as political institutions continued to solidify
around liberal democratic principles.Yet in 2010, the rightwing popu-
list Fidesz Party took power, with Orbán at the helm of a supermajor-
ity in parliament. The supermajority was forged with just over half of
all votes cast, but it nonetheless resulted in Fidesz capturing 68
per cent of the seats up for grabs. Clearing the two-thirds supermajor-
€

ity threshold was hugely consequential because it put Fidesz out of


reach from dissent as it turned to the momentous task of enshrining
democratic principles in a brand new constitution.
â•… Constitutions are not like run-of-the-mill laws; rather than shaping
what is legal and illegal, constitutions shape the rules of the game for

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THE CARROT
writing all future laws. They define the parameters of political action for
years, if not decades or even centuries, to come. In that sense, they are
the documents most dependent on political consensus.Without consen-
sus, constitutions are doomed to fail and it’s usually just a matter of time
before contested constitutions incite destabilizing political strife.
â•… Yet Orbán and his party chose to shut out the opposition and plow
ahead with drafting the constitution entirely on their own. In one par-
ticularly out-of-touch moment, József Szájer—one of Orbán’s close
friends—boasted in a blog post that he was enjoying writing the entire
constitution himself, on his personal iPad: “Steve Jobs will surely be
happy when he gets word that Hungary’s new constitution is being
written on an iPad, actually my iPad.” And then, without further reflec-
tion on the fact that some people might find it deeply troubling that a
single politician from the ruling party could personally draft the whole
constitution, Szájer went on to sing his iPad’s praises: “The best is I
don’t have to wait for minutes to turn it on, like with a normal laptop.
I can open it anywhere and can take advantage of every minute. It’s a
miracle! … Thanx (sic) Steve Jobs!”9 This bizarre post was published
on 1 March 2011, just a day before Steve Jobs unveiled the thinner,
€

faster iPad 2.Yet another miracle from Cupertino, California, this time
enlisted to erode democracy in Budapest faster than would have been
possible with a laptop.
â•… For the opposition, the new constitution was anything but a miracle.
They boycotted the drafting process and the vote approving it. But they
were powerless to stop it. Since then, Fidesz has weakened media inde-
pendence, cowed the judiciary, and passed skewed electoral “reform”
aimed at maintaining its political dominance even if the votes don’t war-
rant it. Former American ambassador Eleni Kounalakis has related the
following: while she was reminding Orbán of democratic principles—
and prodding him to stop undermining them—he burst out: “All this talk
about democracy is bullshit!”10 A democrat, Orbán is not, but he is in
charge of a country that is firmly ensconced in the European Union.
â•… That’s the trouble. While Latvia, Hungary, Estonia, and many others
were induced to democratize in pursuit of Europe’s economic carrots,
there has been no stick to punish those who would rollback democracy
once they joined the club. That needs to change, certainly, but it also
raises two key provocative questions: can the European Union’s ability

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
to transform countries like Latvia from dictatorship to democracy with
economic incentives be replicated elsewhere? And can we learn from
and correct the European Union’s failure to punish countries like
Hungary that are guilty of democratic backsliding?
â•… Many see the European Union as an outlier. It was formed by a
group of democracies, giving the body remarkable cohesion when it
rallied around democratic criteria for membership. Moreover, pro-
spective members were all on Europe’s doorstep, an important boon
for democratization; scholars have found that there is a sort of demo-
cratic diffusion effect, as countries in a democratic “neighborhood” are
more likely to democratize than nations surrounded by dictators, des-
pots, and counterfeit democrats.11
â•… These factors are critical aspects of why Europe was able to use its
economic carrot to such effect. A hundred years ago, any approach to
creating international organizations to bind members more closely—
be it in politics or economics—usually had to be regional, for logistical
reasons. But in a globalized, hyper-connected world, the European
Union’s ability to use economic incentives to spread democracy can be
replicated elsewhere without the need for contiguous borders.
â•… Specifically, Western governments should consider creating a free
trade zone called, for instance, the League of Democracies, an interna-
tional organization that only offers membership to consolidated
democracies. This is not a new idea; it has been trumpeted in the
United States by major players—including senators and intellectu-
als—on both right and left.12 But those proposals typically envision not
a commercial but a strong political alliance, one that could be used to
supplant the United Nations, or, as cynics would have it, to give a
legitimizing rubber stamp to American policy on the global stage. It’s
not a good idea. Intertwining politics between countries as diverse as
Brazil, India, South Korea, and the United States is sure to be messy
and divisive. As a result, I do not support that vision, but I do support
creating a democratic trade zone. Keeping politics out of it as far as
possible could reduce the inevitable impulse of Western governments
to politicize the club and only open it to allies, rather than using demo-
cratic government as the sole condition of membership.
╅ Economic partnerships are strong incentives for national policy�
making, and not just in Europe. If you don’t believe me, just ask the

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THE CARROT
governments of Chile, Malaysia, Peru, or Vietnam, as they scramble
to adapt in order to secure their membership in the Trans-Pacific
€

Partnership, a controversial Pacific Rim free trade zone that is cur-


rently in its birthing stages. Whether you favor or oppose the proposal,
parts of the free trade zone (stretching from Nunavut, Canada to
Hobart, Tasmania, for example) are separated by more than 10,000
miles—nearly four times the span of the European Union. Moreover,
unlike the EU, which is connected by overland transport options, most
of the Trans-Pacific Partnership members can only trade with one
another via air or shipping routes. The Trans-Pacific Partnership proves
that globalization has made international free trade zones possible and
desirable even when gargantuan distances separate the member states.
If bordering the Pacific Ocean is a good enough linking factor to bind
together prospective members of that proposed partnership, why not
bind together the world’s democracies with stronger trading links and
other economic incentives?
â•… Here’s how it would work. Rather than the current convoluted pro-
cess of determining free trade zones with a disjointed and inconsistent
morass of diplomatic jockeying, membership in the League of Demo�
cracies would be meritocratic and removed from the whims of indi-
vidual member nations—even powerful ones like the United States.
There are already many, many organizations that score individual coun-
tries on their democratic qualities; founding members of the League
from across the world (and not just Western Europe or the United
States) could agree upon existing indices or come up with robust,
technocratic assessments of democratic quality. What matters most is
that membership not be politicized, but instead guaranteed to genuine
democracies and closed to non-democracies. This would be the (very)
hard part. Yet, like Odysseus strapping himself to the mast of his ship
because he didn’t trust himself while it passed the Sirens, this process
would ensure that individual member states tempted to give into a
despot’s siren song could not invite them into the League during a
moment of diplomatic weakness.
â•… Most importantly, perhaps, the League of Democracies would pro-
vide a powerful and static incentive for prospective members to reform
their political systems. From the perspective of a despot, democratiza-
tion is a risky move. As Chapter 7 illustrated, a number of autocrats

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
fear being killed, jailed, or exiled if they open the political floodgates
to democratic competition. And, as I outlined in Chapter 5, some
regimes face unexpectedly harsh diplomatic treatment one moment,
only to receive unexpectedly warm treatment the next. This inconsis-
tency undermines the enticement of democratization. From the per-
spective of those in power, the transition to democracy currently offers
concrete and serious risks, but only shaky and indeterminate rewards.
â•… The League of Democracies would drastically shift that calculation:
with a clear reward waiting, two new pressures would push despots to
open their political systems as they drift ever closer toward that tanta-
lizing economic carrot. First, business would be on board with democ-
racy. Whether in Turkmenistan, Bolivia, or even a solid democracy such
as Japan, business interests exert an important force on politics. By
making clear that further democratic reform will result in new (and
potentially major) economic trade routes, business can be enlisted as
democracy’s ally.
â•… Second, despots themselves may be tempted to experiment with
democratic reforms in order to retain political popularity. It is a myth
that people like Islam Karimov and Alexander Lukashenko are indiffer-
ent toward their people; they may not care deeply for their wellbeing
and they may not care to hear their political voices, but they do worry
consistently about the risks of becoming deeply unpopular with their
own citizenry. For the same reason that Thailand’s military junta chose
to give away free haircuts after it took power (in a strange attempt to
win over the public), despots facing a clear slate of economic entice-
ments to democratize may view this as an avenue to assuage public
criticism. Certainly, not everyone who rules with an iron fist will trade
it in for the velvet glove, but some will—and, as was the case in Latvia,
it could be a major driver of reform across the globe.
â•… Of course, it is a long road from despotism to consolidated democ-
racy. For those making progress on that journey, a second tier of the
League could be created—again, with clear, consistent, and de-politi-
cized membership criteria. This would be akin to the stepping-stones
used during the scrutiny process prior to EU accession: some benefits,
but nothing like the real rewards that come as a full member state. As
with my “golden handcuffs” proposal (see Chapter 7), this idea is one
mere blueprint for change, but makes clear that it’s not only possible,

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THE CARROT
but a huge missed opportunity to make democracy something that
countries can use to cash in; by making democracy financially benefi-
cial, a whole host of problems associated with stalled democratic tran-
sitions could disappear, while other nations might even be brought out
from the dictatorial cold.
â•… This is not the current approach. The European Union has “association
agreements” in the Middle East & North Africa region with Tunisia
(signed by Ben Ali’s regime), Morocco and Jordan (kingdoms), Egypt
(military dictatorship), and Algeria (a hybrid authoritarian regime, some-
where between dictatorship and democracy). The United States has free
trade agreements with a variety of countries from across the spectrum,
from Canada and Mexico (democracies) to Singapore (authoritarian-lite)
and Bahrain (dictatorial monarchy), with many shades in between.13 It is
a haphazard approach that is inefficient and fails to make use of trade
policy as an effective tool to catalyze political reform.
â•… Now, I’m not so naïve as to believe that this proposal is problem-free.
There are major wrinkles that would need to be sorted out; the birthing
pains of any free trade agreement involves some compromise, sacrifice,
and vigorous debate in pursuit of an agreement that leaves all nations
better off. Hard choices would need to be made. The logistics are tricky.
Nonetheless, the current slapdash approach to trade policy does little to
achieve the political transformations that Western governments generally
hope to see in the world. That is a wasted opportunity.
â•… Opponents of this idea will certainly worry, and legitimately so,
about a possible foreign policy straitjacket that limits diplomatic flex-
ibility. It’s a risk. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that a League of
Democracies would not force Western nations to cut off trade links
with non-democratic states. It would simply guarantee a coherence to
trade policy, all while creating a race toward democracy, as nations
compete against one another to be democratic enough to join and reap
the rewards.
â•… Moreover, it is also true that such a League may have a limited effect
on countries that are already economically self-sufficient, such as Qatar
or Brunei. However, these are not likely targets for democratization
anyway. Rather, a democracy-based free trade zone would be a power-
ful force for countries that are trapped between democracy and dicta-
torship—tipping the scales in favor of the former while making the
latter seem even more unappealing.

155
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… The League would also be a clear boon to countries that are trying to
do the right thing but are suffering the growing pains of a democratic
transition. Tunisia, for example, needs economic help. The combination
of terrorist attacks bleeding across the border from Libya, the subsequent
loss of tourism, and the lingering effects of decades of crony capitalist
dictatorship, has left the country’s economy badly battered. Right now,
Tunisians like Said Ferjani are doing the right things. But they need more
than a Nobel Prize to stay the course and continue selling the virtues of
democracy to their people; after all, as I acknowledged in Chapter 1,
people tend to prefer a growing economy under authoritarianism to a
collapsing or stagnating one in a democratic system. The longer a demo-
cratic transition looks like Benin, the more likely it is to fail as people
clamber to be Singapore instead. An outside force could help, making
democracy and growth a self-fulfilling prophecy.
â•… A League of Democracies would be an extremely powerful bloc. If
you add up the likely members—the European Union, the United
States, the United Kingdom, India, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Japan,
New Zealand, Indonesia, Argentina, South Korea, and Mexico, to name
a few—you get roughly $55 trillion in GDP. That’s more than three
€

times the size of the European Union or the United States. Cumula�
tively, it accounts for roughly 7 out of every 10 dollars in the world
economy. It’s a big carrot.
â•… Critically, the more influential the carrot, the less necessary a stick
becomes. That’s an important maxim, because, as outlined in Chapter
4, democracy by war hasn’t exactly worked recently. But it’s also
important in the economic realm, because the major economic “stick”—
sanctions—has proven woefully inadequate at compelling reluctant
elites to democratize.
â•… Ever since the Athenians contributed to the outbreak of the
Peloponnesian War 2,400 years ago by imposing an early form of sanc-
tions on Megara, the use of sanctions as a diplomatic tool has had a
checkered history at best.14 Scholars and policymakers both agree that
sanctions are never a “good” policy; they are simply sometimes the least
bad option.
â•… Sanctions were imposed on Iraq from 6 August 1990, four days after
€

Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, sparking Operation Desert Storm.


They remained largely in full force until 2003, when Saddam Hussein

156
THE CARROT
was toppled by the US-led military intervention. As a result of the
sanctions, which included severe restrictions on all trade, including
medicine and food, the Iraqi government established a program for its
citizens that provided 1,000 calories per day, about 40 per cent of their
€

daily nutritional requirements. Nearly two out of three Iraqis relied on


this program. Malnourishment soared for children. Water and sewage
systems collapsed, and doctors were unable to cope with even basic
maladies that had previously been easily treatable. The biting economic
cost of the sanctions siphoned huge amounts of cash away from Iraq’s
comparatively robust school system. The plight of women worsened,
as families that had previously enrolled their daughters in school pulled
them out to help at home. Yet still, Saddam ruled. And even though
democratization was not the primary goal of sanctions against Iraq,
there is wide agreement that the sanctions were a humanitarian disaster
with limited, if any, political upside.15
â•… On the other hand, sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa
probably had little effect on digging the regime’s grave, but at least did
have an important “psychological” effect, according to Phil Levy of Yale
University.16 In this sense, sanctions can be important signals to
regimes as to just how isolated they are on the international stage. But
careful diplomacy can achieve that same signaling, using surgical preci-
sion rather than taking a meat cleaver to the target regime’s body poli-
tic with economic sanctions.
â•… Learning from these biting unintended consequences, some “smart
sanctions” have been developed—including economic instruments that
exclude food and medical supplies from the blacklist.17 These can still
produce unintended consequences because they are difficult to tailor
effectively, but they may offer a better approach. In other instances,
widespread sanctions are avoided altogether. “Targeted sanctions” are
currently in vogue. They aim to punish the elite while sparing the
population. For example, in Zimbabwe, Western governments targeted
President Robert Mugabe and his entourage with travel bans and asset
freezes.18 These have been stunningly inconsequential, and have possi-
bly even entrenched the 92-year-old’s wrinkled grip on power; Mugabe
has cleverly blamed Zimbabwe’s economic woes on the perceived neo-
imperialist bullying represented by the sanctions, successfully deflect-
ing blame from where it should be: on his mismanagement of the

157
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
economy.19 With a bit of political jiu-jitsu, the sanctions, sent to
Mugabe as an economic attack, have been transformed into an unin-
tended gift.
â•… The lesson is that sanctions that truly bite may have a shot at chang-
ing the status quo, but only with tremendous collateral damage and the
risk that public opinion in the targeted country will turn irreversibly
against the Western governments making their economy—and some-
times their children—bleed. In most cases, the spilled blood is in vain.
On the other hand, sanctions that only target the elite are unlikely to
work, and may even entrench the regime further.
â•… Even the biggest proponent of the sanctions “stick” would likely
acknowledge that they should be used only when carrots have been
exhausted. Since trade is not being employed to even close to its full
potential as an economic incentive to lure despots into democracy, it’s
hard to argue that the approach of diplomatic overtures has ever truly
been exhausted. We should try to craft a bigger carrot, and the League
of Democracies would do precisely that.
â•… Finally, there is a hidden but crucial benefit that would accompany
the formation of such an economic partnership. Member states—from
Indonesia to Chile to the United States—would have to agree upon
criteria that could be used to evaluate democratic governance. For the
first time, there would be an official, agreed-upon classification of
democracies beyond scholarly datasets and esoteric NGO reports. The
second tier of countries would require a uniform judgment as to which
countries were actively democratizing, rather than stagnating between
the extremes. Imagine how different it would be if countries were
competing against each other to be more democratic, in hot pursuit of
a lucrative label.
â•… Knowing whether a country deserves the “democracy” label or not
is more important than you might think, because democracy is more
than just a word. The term is currently bandied about far too often to
describe countries that host sham elections without any system that
could warrant being called a democracy. This over-use has been helped
along by the sort of democratic “grade inflation” described in Chapter
5. The problem is that people then begin to associate “democracy” with
governments that are not at all democratic. This has seriously damaging
long-term effects for the prospects of democracy. If citizens believe

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THE CARROT
that they are living in a democracy when they are, in fact, living in a
counterfeit version of it, they are far more likely to reject democratiza-
tion as a concept. They will, over time, become more willing to
embrace the false prophets of military rule or authoritarian strongmen
who, more often than not, promise everything but deliver nothing.
â•… For example, with a few key exceptions, Africa is a patchwork quilt
of counterfeit democracies with some nasty despots thrown in the mix.
Most African countries hold contested elections, but few are meaning-
fully free or fair. The rule of law is weak.Yet when tens of thousands of
Africans were surveyed and asked whether they were satisfied with
democracy in their country, just 965 out of more than 50,000 respon-
dents replied: “this country is not a democracy.”20 Instead, most
accepted the premise that they lived in a democratic country but that
it was not necessarily a good system. More than four out of ten respon-
dents said that they were “Not at all satisfied” or “Not very satisfied”
with democracy. If you add in those who replied that they were only
“Fairly satisfied” with democracy, those with, at best, a tepid view of
democracy comprise more than three-quarters of respondents across
the continent. Electoral grade inflation and low expectations have
adjusted the bar ever lower.
â•… Of course, this is not because democracy is failing Africa, but
because most of Africa is not actually democratic. As a result, it’s no
surprise that skepticism is the overwhelming response to Western ini-
tiatives aiming to help reinforce democracy south of the Sahara. It
doesn’t need to be reinforced; it still needs to be created. The longer
that counterfeit democracies are able to pass convincingly as the real
thing, the longer it will take to dispel the false notion that democracy
cannot deliver results.
â•… The League of Democracies is an idea that is long overdue. Now,
with more diverse democracies than ever before scattered across the
globe, the organization would not easily be dismissed as a simple stooge
of Western interests or a re-constituted wing of Western imperialism.
Instead, it would provide a solid and enduring incentive for countries
to choose to chase democracy rather than being told or pressured to
do so. It could end the current backsliding and stagnation of global
democracy and possibly acting as a springboard for a “Fourth Wave” of
democracy. But even if that’s a gross overstatement, it certainly could

159
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
prove transformative for several cases, while providing a guiding direc-
tion to global trade policy that produces a more just, safe, and demo-
cratic world.
â•… In Latvia, it’s incredible to see the Corner House, a vestige of a ter-
ribly dark authoritarian past, now nothing more than a museum—a
distant memory of a long-gone tyranny. Yet Latvia’s trajectory in the
wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse was not pre-ordained. Democracies
are made, not automatically born phoenix-like from the ashes of des-
pots. They are built by fallible people. Given that the majority of coun-
tries around the globe are stuck in some form of hybrid counterfeit
democracy, it’s clear that transitions are all too easily diverted.
â•… As Latvia’s path toward the European Union showed, economic
carrots provide a powerful means to keep countries on track.
Importantly, such tools can be used to draw reluctant nations into the
fold of democracy voluntarily—a far more effective form of transition
than one externally applied with force, the threat of force, or the eco-
nomic stick of devastating sanctions. Tying economic rewards to
democracy would not only create a self-fulfilling prophecy that democ-
racies create growth, but would also prompt business interests to pres-
sure the regime from within. For existing democracies, the League of
Democracies would open new trading partnerships, providing key
emerging markets for Western goods. When countries like Hungary
stray from democracy, they could simply be kicked out of the League.
After all, unlike the European Union, there would be no explicit politi-
cal integration or common currencies to cope with. It’s a win-win
scenario, even if the prospects of this idea becoming reality—at least
in the short term—remain, sadly, dim.
â•… In the meantime, though, there are new glimmers of hope that may
help prod unwilling despots to embrace democratic reform. Many of
those glimmers of light, interestingly enough, are being reflected off
the shiny metal of new technology, the most promising new weapon in
the global battle for democracy.

160
11

THE NEW BATTLEGROUND

Principle 9: Harness the power of information technology to outfox


and undermine despots, but recognize its limits
On 23 August 2014, Dr. Bilgin Ciftci, an official at Turkey’s Public
€ €

Health Institution, logged onto his Facebook account—just as about a


billion people do every day. And, like many of them, Ciftci saw an
amusing meme. Rather than simply “liking” it and moving on, he posted
it on his own page, sharing it with his Facebook friends. It was a per-
fectly banal act. Hundreds of people around the globe have done
exactly the same thing in the time you spent reading this paragraph.
â•… Ciftci’s meme, however, was politically sensitive. The image he had
shared showed three photos of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoggan€

making exaggerated facial expressions, compared side-by-side with


remarkably similar expressions on the face of Gollum, the wretched
Lord of the Rings character. In the first picture, both Erdoggan and
€

Gollum look surprised; in the second, they are laughing; and in the
third, one is eagerly devouring a raw fish, while the other happily
gnaws on a chicken leg. It was a funny image, but its consequences have
not been amusing for Ciftci.
â•… Someone reported him. Turkish authorities swiftly opened an inves-
tigation to get to the bottom of the doctor’s incendiary meme sharing.
By October, the Public Health Institution, likely worried about cross-

161
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
ing Erdoggan’s regime, fired Ciftci. In December, he was hauled in front
€

of a judge for violating Article 299 of the Turkish penal code, which
holds that anyone who insults the president may face up to four years
behind bars.1 It appears that Erdoggan has thin skin; Turkey files five
€

times more requests to remove content from Twitter than any other
country, and more than 100 alleged violators of Article 299 were
indicted between late 2014 and early 2015 alone.2
â•… In December 2015, Ciftci got his moment in court. His defense
team tried to argue that public officials should be more open to criti-
cism, scrutiny, and satire than the average Turkish citizen. But the judge
was not receptive. Instead, he focused on another part of the defense’s
argument: that comparing Erdoggan to Gollum was not an insult, as the
€

bug-eyed, slimy creature, corrupted and torn apart by greed and his
unending lust to regain his lost “precious,” the one ring of power, was
in fact intended to be a sympathetic victim and an unlikely hero who
unwittingly saved the world from surefire destruction.
â•… The judge, bewildered at being forced to weigh in on a literary figure,
sheepishly admitted that he had not watched all of the Lord of the Rings
films, nor had he read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. As such, he used all
€

the authority vested in him by the Turkish state to compel five “Gollum
experts” to carefully study the creature and report back on whether or
not the comparison could be accurately construed as an insult.
â•… As the court adjourned, Peter Jackson, the director of the films,
weighed in publicly in defense of Ciftci. He claimed that the images
shared on Facebook were depicting Smeagol, the more sympathetic,
Hobbit-like persona trapped inside Gollum’s corrupted, villainous
exterior: “Smeagol does not lie, deceive, or attempt to manipulate
others. He is not evil, conniving, or malicious… Smeagol would never
dream of wielding power over those weaker than himself. He is not a
bully. In fact he’s very loveable.”3 At the time of writing, those com-
ments have been included in the case file, but no decision has yet been
made. In the meantime, Ciftci’s freedom hangs in the balance, tied to
literary interpretation. It is truly theatre of the absurd, but high-profile
cases like this one will chill future digital speech, as Turks think twice
before re-posting a silly meme within their little sliver of cyberspace.
â•… Turkey’s rising Internet censorship and associated media crackdown
are deeply troubling for democracy, and worsening. Turkey passed a law

162
THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
in February 2014 that allows the government to block any website within
four hours of an order, without needing court authorization. And, most
damaging, in July 2016 the regime responded to a failed coup attempt
with a stunningly brutal purge of tens of thousands of civil servants,
soliders, judges, and teachers. Comparatively, the Gollum story may
seem like a silly distraction, but it represents an important and under-
appreciated trend in the global battle for democracy.
â•… Social media, information technology, and digital communications
offer a huge and perhaps even unprecedented opportunity to level the
playing field between the people and state power. Even with heroic
efforts to the contrary, digital information flows are difficult to stop—
and knowledge and social coordination can be extremely powerful
when it comes to standing up to despots.
â•… But the corresponding backlash by authoritarian rulers, who also have
learned a thing or two about digital communication, is undermining
naïve predictions made across the Western world in the wake of the Arab
Spring. Everyone seemed to think that it was only a matter of time before
Twitter revolutions began toppling despots left and right. It was a return
to the notion, initially articulated by Francis Fukuyama, that we had
reached the democratic endpoint, the “End of History”4—but this time
the end would be announced in 140 characters or fewer. There was even
a movement to nominate Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize.5 Yet as the
grip of authoritarianism has tightened rather than loosened in the last
decade, it has become clear that reports of despotism’s death at the hands
of Twitter and Facebook have been greatly exaggerated.
â•… Social media, information technology, and digital communication
are incredibly powerful tools that scare despots—and rightly so. But
they are just tools. Throughout history, swords have been used to liber-
ate and to oppress. And the new era of digital communication offers its
fair share of double-edged swords. The key is to ensure that the blade
strikes despots, not democrats.
â•… Take Omar Afifi, for example. Afifi, a former Egyptian police officer
who stood up to his superiors, fled Egypt in April 2008 and landed in
New York “with nothing but $50 and a gold watch.”6 After being
granted political asylum, Afifi settled in Falls Church, Virginia—inside
the DC beltway and just a fifteen-minute drive from the Pentagon.
During the Arab Spring and the social media-fueled Tahrir Square

163
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
standoff between protesters and President Mubarak, Afifi shared insider
tips about how police tactics would be used to crush the protests. He
used Skype to stay in constant contact with those occupying the square.
He used Google Maps to highlight potential routes that protesters
should use if and when the eventual crackdown came.7 There is no
doubt that the digital revolution influenced the Egyptian Revolution.
â•… However, just as Afifi played a part in establishing Egypt’s brief
experiment with democracy, he also played a part in its downfall. He
may have had no love for Mubarak, but he had just as little for
Mohammed Morsi, the man who replaced him as Egypt’s leader. When
anti-Morsi demonstrations began in 2012, Afifi again used social media
to try to tip the scales: “Incapacitate them by smashing their knee bones
first.” On an equally grisly note, he instructed his Facebook followers
to “Make a road bump with a broken palm tree to stop the buses going
into Cairo, and drench the road around it with gas and diesel. When
the bus slows down for the bump, set it all ablaze so it will burn down
with all the passengers inside … God bless.”89
â•… Afifi’s story illustrates an important but often overlooked truth
about social media: it is neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil.
Its impact on democracy depends on who is using it and to what effect.
Frantic tweeting won’t automatically bring down an autocrat. There is
no doubt that new technology has the potential to level the playing
field, lowering despots from their pedestals and placing them under the
scrutiny of those down below. But despots can use those same tools, to
divide, to misinform, and to crack down on those who oppose them.
â•… In Thailand, for example, after the military junta took power in
2014, it attempted to co-opt public opinion using digital media in a
novel way. Rather than Facebook Messenger, the Japanese messaging
app LINE is the primary means of digital communication in the mili-
tary-ruled kingdom. Given that Thailand is know as the Land of
Smiles, it was appropriate that the junta’s first major public incursion
into social media came with the announcement that the government
was spending 7 million baht (just under $200,000) to introduce
twelve smiling digital stickers for the app, free of charge. Each sticker,
released just in time for New Year’s, depicted one of the “twelve val-
ues” taught by Thailand’s military despot, Prayuth Chan-ocha. These
included: “Loyalty to the Nation, the Religion, and the Monarchy”;

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THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
“Discipline, respect for law, and obedience to the older citizens”; and,
my personal favorite, “Correct understanding of democracy with the
King as Head of State.”10 This last was particularly ironic coming from
a military ruler who had come to power in a coup, no less because the
video launching the twelve values provoked a brief public relations
firestorm by including a scene of schoolchildren praising Adolf
Hitler.11 For the young Thais that I asked about the stickers, they rep-
resented a tone-deaf attempt by out-of-touch generals to win them
over. But the military regime’s attempt to use new media platforms to
disseminate propaganda, even if it was done to little effect, is a strik-
ing development.
â•… Sometimes, social media and web-based platforms don’t even
require state intervention to be effective antidotes to democratization.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, one of the world’s foremost experts on Thai
politics, notes that social media can polarize societies in two important
ways. First, social media can become an echo chamber, as people only
choose to digitally interact with like-minded individuals.12 When that
happens, ideas are amplified and made more extreme over time as
criticism is silenced, not by force, but by self-selection. (This is not
unique to Thailand; most people have a pool of Facebook friends who
reinforce their existing political views rather than openly challenging
them). Second, humans seem to have a knack for being nasty to each
other, but particularly so when nastiness is typed rather than spoken.
The higher degree of separation, distance, and, sometimes, anonymity
that accompanies digital interactions allows vitriol to rise to levels that
would be unthinkable in non-digital public spaces. In these two ways,
social divides that can benefit the ruling elite may be deeply ingrained
in national discourse, even without a junta buying stickers or coming
up with other flimsy ploys.
â•… Thailand’s government isn’t taking any chances, though. A Thai man
now faces up to thirty-seven years in prison for a social media post that
lampooned the revered King Bhumibol’s dog, Tongdaeng. The dog,
which died in December 2015, was used by the monarchy to showcase
the desirable values of loyalty and obedience, a lesson that was appar-
ently lost on Thanakorn Siripaiboon, who made the satirical post.13 This
event, and the infamous Gollum trial that preceded it in Turkey, are
comical sideshows for a Western audience, but they can effectively

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
silence critics and destroy lives. Nonetheless, it is worth asking
whether they do the regime more harm than good, drawing interna-
tional consternation and condemnation of a previously under-the-radar
issue. In short, such instances are not the shrewdest attempts to tame
the role of digital communications.
â•… Other despots, however, are much more savvy, derailing democracy
as they shut down or co-opt digital communication effectively. In
Uganda’s rigged 2016 presidential election, for example, the govern-
ment unilaterally shut down all social media in the country during the
voting, claiming that doing so was in the interest of combating
unfounded rumors.14 But in reality, it was almost certainly intended to
stop digitally connected voters from sharing easily documented
instances of voter fraud. Some reports still got out, including one strik-
ing image of a voter casting a ballot into an uncovered basket while a
soldier watched which box he ticked, gun at the ready.
â•… Other attempts to co-opt digital media for the benefit of the regime
are more complicated, a tug-of-war between pro-democracy activists
and the defensive regime. In 2009, the so-called Green Revolution
(that wasn’t) swept across Tehran. Writers in the West seized on the
hashtag #IranElection, tweeting themselves into a frenzy that this was
the first “Twitter Revolution.”15 The only problem was that the hashtag
was, of course, in English, and dominated by English-speaking users
outside of Tehran.16 That is not to say that they did not have an impact;
one Twitter user in particular, known only as OxfordGirl, provided the
best Western window into the unfolding events. But she was in Oxford,
not Tehran. She claimed in a Guardian profile (oozing with admiration
for her new-fangled digital revolutionary persona) that she kept in
constant contact with people on the ground in Tehran via her cell
phone.17 But Iranian authorities were simply switching off all mobile
phone networks in the city anytime a protest broke out.18 It is unlikely
that her tweets from the City of Dreaming Spires played a decisive role
in the Iranian protests (or their failure). Mostly, it was Americans and
other Westerners tweeting amongst themselves. The regime, on the
other hand, used Twitter to great effect.
â•… In December 2009, during the Green Movement protests, a pro-
regime website published a series of photos, with the faces of certain
undesirables circled in red. Using Internet-based crowdsourcing, at

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THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
least forty people were arrested, showing that despotic regimes can use
the web to request popular involvement, rather than fearing it or try-
ing to shut it down. Then, the regime disseminated a video online that
had possibly been altered, showing Green Movement protesters burn-
ing the image of Ayatollah Khomeini, a clear attempt to divide the
opposition against itself. This move demonstrated the regime’s ability
to use social media for misinformation campaigns to great effect.
â•… Furthermore, Iranians living abroad received anonymous messages
on social media warning them that if they posted about the protests
online, their families might be harmed. Such a tactic would have been
unthinkable in past decades; it’s hard to imagine the Iranian govern-
ment sending out similar messages on official letterhead. Facebook has
provided an easy way for government thugs to intimidate opponents
abroad, using their digital presence as a weak pressure point and push-
ing it aggressively. For those considering posting on social media or blogs
in Iran, the Iranian police chief, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam,
warned that digital dissidents “have committed a worse crime than
those who come to the streets.”19
â•… Those high-level threats were reinforced via text messages. The
intelligence ministry did not mince its words nor hide its identity when
it sent text messages to a wide swath of Iranians:
Dear citizen, according to received information, you have been influenced
by the destabilizing propaganda which the media affiliated with foreign
countries have been disseminating. In case of any illegal action and contact
with the foreign media, you will be charged as a criminal consistent with
the Islamic Punishment Act and dealt with by the Judiciary.20
â•… Tacked onto this intimidation were savvy and sophisticated attempts
to sow doubt within the ranks of the opposition. While the exact details
are difficult to discern with absolute accuracy, it seems that the Iranian
government planted on the Internet, and then facilitated the spread of,
the tragic tale of an Iranian activist, Saeedah Pouraghayi. Pouraghayi had
allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” on her rooftop, in protest against the
regime, only to be subsequently raped and murdered by regime support-
ers. Her story went viral. But the whole thing turned out to be a hoax;
after becoming the poster-child of Iran’s digital protests, Pouraghayi
showed up on state TV to show that she was very much alive and the
whole tale was untrue. By co-opting the opposition to unknowingly

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spread misinformation, the regime undermined legitimate claims of state
brutality and rape and more broadly cast doubts on the veracity of oppo-
sition claims against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.21
â•… Ultimately, the prevailing and seductive Western narrative on Iran’s
failed 2009 revolution is badly mistaken. This was not a revolution that
thrived on Twitter and Facebook. At best, digital communication pro-
vided a modest boost to a largely disorganized movement. At worst,
the regime outfoxed the protesters, using new platforms to enhance
their repression, freeze protest, and undermine the legitimacy of the
regime’s fiercest opponents through intimidation and misinformation.
Social media is not automatically a tool for democracy. It’s just a new
battleground. Based on the last decade, it seems that the democrats are
losing the battle.
â•… I’m confident, though, that they will win the digital war. The so-
called Umbrella Movement that grew into large-scale protests in Hong
Kong in late 2014 provides cause for such optimism. Protesters used
digital communication effectively, organizing protests, sit-ins, and
other acts of resistance by rallying online. As in the Arab Spring, virtual
communication was a key mechanism of the movement. But China’s
government fought back with intense digital counterattacks. Several of
the most popular pro-democracy websites in Hong Kong came under
unprecedented DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks, a digital
assault that overwhelms the digital server with extreme volumes of
junk web traffic.22 In one instance, a single website reported being
inundated with 500 gigabytes of traffic per second, the equivalent of
downloading more than 390,000 full-length films per hour.23 These
attacks succeeded in outpacing the sites’ bandwidth capacity, and they
were knocked offline—stopping pro-democracy activists from spread-
ing information through them. The Chinese government comple-
mented these cyber attacks with insidious “50-cent” commenters.
These low-paid stooges of the regime were compensated for flooding
comment boards, blogs, anywhere that users could post, with pro-
government propaganda attacking the Umbrella Movement.24 And, just
for good measure, they followed the tried and tested approach: blame
the protests on a plot by the American government.
â•… These underhanded tactics succeeded in the short term. The
Umbrella Movement eventually fizzled. But the tens of thousands of

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THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
protesters jamming the city’s main arteries changed the political nar-
rative, spreading ideas that cannot be censored even if some websites
can be—for a time. Nine months after the protests ended, the Hong
Kong Legislative Council vetoed the proposed constitutional amend-
ment that sparked the protest movement in the first place: a plan that
would have allowed Hong Kong’s residents to vote on their leader, but
only from a slate of three candidates handpicked by Beijing. The pro-
posal had seemed sure to pass before young students occupied Hong
Kong’s streets. After the protests, it failed by a margin of twenty-eight
votes against to eight in favor.25
â•… As a result, Hong Kong’s government is left with its antiquated colo-
nial-era system of allowing 1,200 business and political elites to pick the
city’s chief executive. That system is, understandably, deeply unpopular,
and the ruling elites in Hong Kong cannot simply rest on their laurels and
hope that the simmering unrest will disappear. It won’t.
â•… In February 2016, protests during the Lunar New Year turned vio-
lent in the working-class neighborhood of Mong Kok as protesters
clashed with riot police.26 The grievances were the same. These acts of
defiance are becoming more commonplace and they are having a ripple
effect that is sure to grow. Two weeks later, in late February, a key pro-
democracy candidate, Alvin Yeung, defeated the pro-Beijing candidate,
Holden Chow in a legislative council by-election,27 seen as a bellwether
for Hong Kong’s politics. It is starting to seem more and more as
though the students weathered the political storm of the Umbrella
Movement much better than Beijing. Authoritarianism won the battle
in late 2014; but the long-term horizon looks brighter for democracy
as a result.
â•… Hong Kong is not, of course, the same as the whole of China. Even
if Hong Kong’s protesters succeed in securing their right to elect their
leadership and participate more meaningfully in policymaking, it is
only a small slice of China, and one that retains unique special privi-
leges. Only one in every 200 Chinese citizens live in Hong Kong. But
that should actually be cause for optimism, because it shows a clear
missing piece of the debate over new technology and its impact on
democracy: local participation and oversight. There’s a saying that all
politics is local. If that’s true, then politics is likely to become consider-
ably more democratic as digital technologies continue to permeate

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modern life, from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to villages in Togo.
National politicians are less likely to push back against or crack down
on local democratic movements than national protests, and the power
of apps to influence local politics is far greater, because it is less
entrenched and less politicized than national politics. Shrewd reform-
ers have found an opening.
â•… In existing democracies, such as India, digital projects have also
helped to consolidate democracy by undermining its enemies, such as
public corruption. For example, the website I Paid a Bribe allows users
to anonymously report having to pay a bribe for basic government
services like birth and death certificates, passports, train reservations,
or interactions with the police.28 Since its inception, more than 75,000
reports have been filed, including thousands of citizens lauding honest
officers and reporting instances of not having to pay a bribe. Because
the reports are anonymous, citizens feel confident enough to share
authentic information, providing reform-minded government leaders
with geo-targeted information of where corruption is running rampant
and where it is comparatively subdued. In Karnataka State, for exam-
ple, digital reports helped identify twenty corrupt officers in the motor
vehicle department. But that was not enough for Bhaskar Rao, the
transport commissioner. He transformed the system to ensure that all
licenses could be applied for and purchased online, precluding any
possibility of bribery in the system. Taking things to an unprecedented
level of transparency and accountability, he also installed sensors and
video monitoring equipment for driving tests. Previously, these tests
were notoriously subject to bribe taking, a double menace because it
involved both bureaucratic corruption and bad drivers improperly
being allowed on the roads. With the sensors, it was impossible for the
examiner to feign being on the fence as to whether they would pass the
driver, in hope of eliciting a bribe; instead, there was an objective mea-
sure of whether the car was within the appropriate lines during parallel
parking assessment, for example.29
â•… Coming full circle, digital technology not only empowered the
reformist transport commissioner to identify the corruption problem
and its culprits, but allowed him to ensure that corruption became
logistically impossible.Yet Rao’s trendsetting approach could not tackle
high-level corruption. In a poetic underscoring of this fact, a man with

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THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
the same name, Bhaskar Rao, was disgraced after corruption charges
came to light during his time, ironically, as the lokayuta, or anti-corrup-
tion ombudsman, for the same state.30 If only there were some technol-
ogy that could do for extortion what Rao did for driving tests.
â•… The marriage of technical advances with the political willpower of
people like Commissioner Rao is crucial to stamping out corruption,
which is critically important for the survival of democracy. As eminent
democracy scholar Larry Diamond of Stanford University recently put
it, “It is hard to find an instance of the breakdown of democracy in which
corruption did not play a leading or at least prominent role.”31 That starts
with local corruption, and digital technology is a new and important
weapon in fighting it. Since launching in India, I Paid a Bribe has set up
sister sites in fifteen other countries, including states as diverse as
Colombia, Guyana, Hungary, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, and Morocco.
â•… Beyond exposing corruption, web-based initiatives are also helping
to shine a light on the inner workings of arcane and opaque govern-
ment decision-making. For example, the Nigerian website BudgIT
provides digestible information about government budgets. Moreover,
it also offers a project tracking feature, which allows citizens to upload
photos of government projects that have been paid for, holding politi-
cians accountable to spend government money as they should rather
than lining their own pockets. In all its simple glory, BudgIT lets
Nigerians know when the local emperor has no clothes—when mil-
lions have been allocated for a school but all that exists is a hole in the
ground.32 The project recently expanded to Ghana and Sierra Leone,
and could serve as a model well beyond West Africa.
â•… In Mexico, Mejora Tu Escuela allows parents to become involved in
the oversight of their local schools. The platform provides detailed
comparative information about how each local school stacks up, allow-
ing parents more information that can be used to pressure local officials
to be more responsive to their concerns—with hard data to back it
up.33 If knowledge is power, then Mexican parents are more empow-
ered today than they were in the digital dark ages. Local participation
in such government services can form the critical bedrock for bottom-
up democratic change. Apps are also making a difference in advanced
democracies. FixMyStreet in the United Kingdom, for example, allows
citizens to flag potholes, uncollected waste, broken streetlights, and
other banal government failures.34

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… These digital tools exist, then, in consolidated democracies (India, the
UK), nearly consolidated democracies (Mexico), and counterfeit democ-
racies (Nigeria). But even in the most closed societies, digital communi-
cations can shine a light on government failures. In late 2009, floods
inundated the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. The government response
was badly bungled. More than 100 people died needlessly. Citizens
turned to Facebook to document the flooding and express anger at their
government in an unprecedented display of opposition to the ruling fam-
ily. In response, King Abdullah promised “never again” and vowed to
improve public services and flood preparations. But in early 2011, the
city flooded again and the response was just as badly managed. Raw sew-
age mixed with rainwater as it flowed in the streets. Holding even less
back, one brazen Facebook user posted an image of the “Saudi” flag,
altered from the fierce national symbol of two sabers crossed over a palm
tree to show two mops crossed, somewhat less menacingly, over a stack
of buckets. It went viral, and Saudis used digital platforms to demand
more from their government at the local level.35
â•… These examples of local-level democracy, from Bangalore and
Jeddah to Birmingham, may seem trivial, particularly when compared
to the lofty battles against despots in palaces highlighted previously. But
for most people, this is what democracy is for: to improve the experi-
ence of day-to-day life and allow them a meaningful say in the decisions
that affect them most directly. Journalists, politicians, diplomats, and
political scientists find these low-level topics so much less “sexy” than
national policymaking, so anything local inevitably receives minimal
attention. But for most of the planet’s occupants, the battles that they
care about most intimately are fought over local problems and local
solutions, not showdowns between democrats and despots at the presi-
dential palace.
â•… Government responsiveness at the local level adds up to something
that is bigger than the sum of its parts. In aggregate, it can help create
citizen expectations of participatory, responsive government while
stamping out corruption, graft, and mismanagement. People who get
used to this are unlikely to indefinitely accept something completely
different at the national level. In short, forcing good governance at the
local level is likely to trickle up to the national level. And on the local
political battleground, digital communication is being used to win both
the battle and the war.

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THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
â•… As a result, over time, we should expect to see local democracy
become more vibrant while despots become increasingly vulnerable to
pressure from below. The digital democracy revolutions may not have
happened yet, but they still could come—even if they are forged over
years and years, from village to village, rather than in the span of a few
spectacular tweets. This would arguably be better than a series of
explosive revolutions spawned online anyway. Transitions to democracy
can be messy, volatile, and destabilizing. Anyone who says otherwise is
a naïve idealist. Therefore, for those places that may not experience a
rapid breakdown of authoritarianism, digital communications technol-
ogy could help prod leaders—particularly counterfeit democrats—
toward reform.
â•… Even with these bright local beacons of hope, it’s premature to give
up on the national-level digital fight just yet. The ground is shifting
under despots from Equatorial Guinea to North Korea in new and
unpredictable ways, and the West can help speed up their reforms or,
if they are resistant to change, their demise. Computerized statistical
analysis, digital election integrity, and online polling each hold tremen-
dous promise in dealing a blow to reluctant despots.
â•… One of the wonderful things about computers is that they can some-
times tell if we’re too human for our own good. Empirical research
shows that if you ask someone to write down a series of “random”
three-digit numbers, the end result is anything but. People rarely pick
numbers that end in 0, 5, or are written in ascending order (such
as 123). Conversely, other types of numbers are overrepresented:
€

numbers that end in odd digits like 7 or 3, and numbers that are in
descending order like 987.
â•… That matters when it comes to election results in places that have a
systematic problem with vote tallies simply being fabricated. If statisti-
cians are given sufficient data points (such as all the vote tallies from
every precinct in the country), they are able to develop a certain degree
of confidence in making a judgment as to whether the election was tam-
pered with or not. Even if election officials get lazy and simply start tal-
lying everything with 0s and 5s, a non-random distribution of final digits
is telling and highly indicative of election tampering. A 2012 study used
this method to highlight stolen elections in Nigeria with considerable
accuracy and confidence in their results, a new tool for democracy that

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
is facilitated by technology—both in the transparency and collection of
data and in its statistical analysis for massive datasets.36 The West should
simply not tolerate election results that do not involve full precinct-level
tallies; nobody should be able to hide behind figures that are aggregated
at the regional or even national level. As use of this technology becomes
a global norm, making up vote numbers will become either a thing of the
past or an easily exposed embarrassment.
â•… Yet such statistical methods are complicated. Simpler solutions
exist. For example, when I served as an election monitor in Madagascar,
I was heartened to see that the ballot boxes were secured with bar-
coded and individually numbered zip ties. A poll worker can scan the
zip tie at the beginning of the day and again at the end of the day. If
anyone has tampered with the ballot box and replaced the zip tie, the
numbers and barcodes won’t match up. Of course, this doesn’t stop
people from stuffing ballot boxes if poll workers are complicit in the
rigging, but, with digital technology and the ever-falling price of sim-
ple software, it’s a cheap and powerful antidote to at least some elec-
toral fraud. Finally, online polling offers a potentially new frontier for
dispelling the official myth that 99.9 per cent of the population loves a
€

given despot. Again, knowledge is power, and knowing whether the


people actually despise their leader is powerful intelligence for those
who oppose the regime.
â•… Polling has already shifted considerably over time. Ever since the
infamous mistake of oversampling wealthy Literary Digest readers that
ended in the embarrassingly wrong prediction that Alf Landon would
roll FDR in a landslide election, pollsters have become increasingly
savvy at accounting for bias in their samples. But in the last several
years, targeting a representative swath of the population has become
difficult. Polls in the 1990s were conducted almost exclusively through
landline telephones. Then, as more and more people dropped landlines
in favor of mobile phones, pollsters adapted and tried to ensure that an
appropriate percentage of their respondents were mobile phone users.37
These approaches were deemed vastly superior to online polling, which
tended to have huge problems with selection bias—primarily because it
oversampled young people who made up a disproportionately large
share of Internet users but a disproportionately small share of the elec-
torate. That problem is diminishing, slowly but surely, as Internet usage

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THE NEW BATTLEGROUND
becomes more equally distributed demographically over time. This is an
important development, because it offers a new, potent means of gaug-
ing the mood of the people under authoritarian rule.
â•… Most despots operate in an environment where polling is either
banned or simply does not exist. Unlike in the West, where voters have
a 24/7 stream of the latest snapshot into the race, voters living in dic-
tatorships and counterfeit democracies rarely have access to reliable
information about who is likely to win or lose. That can be a problem
on two levels.
â•… First, the absence of polling means that the election takes place with
an avoidable unknown—how closely the vote tally matched expecta-
tions. Any major divergence can be strong grounds for more thorough
investigations by independent electoral commissions and international
observers beyond the scrutiny on polling day itself.
â•… Second, polling helps temper expectations. As unfortunate as it is,
there are despots who are genuinely popular and would go on to win
hypothetically free and fair elections—even if their elections are usu-
ally neither. Yet in those instances, the opposition often believes the
contrary. When the election returns are announced, any mismatch
between the lofty but unfounded expectations of the opposition and
the ultimate electoral verdict can be hugely destabilizing, sparking riots
and widespread violence. With accurate polling, such violence can at
least be made less likely.
â•… Online polling offers possible solutions to both problems, primarily
because it can be conducted outside the nation’s borders. So long as the
Internet is not shut down completely or the website blocked outright,
the international community could develop an agreed method of con-
ducting pre-election digital polling that does not suffer the common
pitfalls of skewed poll results. There is, of course, no magic elixir that can
make polls accurate, but I’m hopeful that a group of nations working
together might come up with a reasonable way to accurately measure
popular opinion using digital tools.
â•… Doing so multilaterally is hugely important, as despots will almost
certainly dismiss any polling conducted by a Western firm as a biased
American propaganda ploy. Such accusations will ring hollow if the
poll is backed by a wide array of nations. Again, the key is international
norms. The more uniform standards are agreed, the easier it is to name

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
and shame those who violate them. That may not be enough to sway
entrenched dictators in Uzbekistan or North Korea, but it could do
wonders for those hundred or so nations trapped between dictatorship
and democracy, whose leaders are trying desperately to masquerade as
the latter.
â•… Moreover, digital polling offers an important advantage: people are
more honest with computers than with people. The so-called Bradley
effect38 showcased this in American politics: human-to-human telephone
polling requires adjustments to account for the fact that voters overstate
their preferences for African-American candidates so as to avoid being
seen as racist.39 In the context of despotism, there is an enormous risk
that human-based polls will have voters simply toeing the line and indi-
cating support for the ruling party regardless of their opinion. Internet
polls help mitigate that problem, even if it remains a challenge.
â•… These potential applications of technology make clear that despots
fighting the spread of ideas are like a cracking dam: they can aggres-
sively fill in the cracks, but eventually one will prove too deep and the
flow will come rushing through. The West can and should help this
happen, not by fomenting Twitter revolutions as they mistakenly aimed
to do in Cuba with ZunZuneo (see Chapter 2), but by letting citizens
in their own countries empower themselves with information technol-
ogy. The free flow of information is more likely to be effective than
Western plots anyway.
â•… Uganda’s efforts to shut down social media on election day did not
stop voters from realizing that the election was rigged. Hong Kong’s
Umbrella Movement protesters couldn’t access certain websites for a
short while, but the movement still drastically changed hearts and minds.
And in Turkey, Dr Bilgin Ciftci may rot in a jail cell for sharing a Gollum
€

meme. Eventually, the despots who stubbornly resist reform and shut
down expansive information flows will become more and more like
Gollum themselves: isolated, paranoid, and clinging to the elusive prom-
ise of ultimate power as they ensure their own destruction.

176
12

CITY ON A SWAMP

Principle 10: Lead by example


In the West African nation of Burkina Faso, trouble is brewing before
an upcoming presidential election, slated to take place in late 2016.
Tensions throughout the campaign have been running high. The opposi-
tion candidate, Ousmane Aboubacar, has stoked those tensions with a
protectionist message against integration into the global economy,
embracing xenophobic rhetoric against immigrant communities and
migrant workers (particularly from Togo to the south) who, he claims,
are stealing Burkinabé jobs. As a result, his rallies have frequently
devolved into ethnic clashes, as protesters from disproportionately
impoverished ethnic minority communities have been bloodied and
beaten by Aboubacar’s supporters.
â•… Moreover, Aboubacar has raised red flags with Western observers
and divided Burkinabé public opinion by offhandedly suggesting draco-
nian counterterrorism tactics to deal with the rising threat of Islamic
extremism in West Africa, including from Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in
the Islamic Maghreb. Indeed, international experts have agreed that
several of his proposals seem to be in violation of the Geneva
Convention, which Burkina Faso ratified in 1955. Those comments
have caused some extremists—including religious extremists—within
his movement to question his credentials to lead. At the time of writ-

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
ing, several prominent analysts have spoken out, worrying that the
opposition movement could tear itself apart and devolve into cata-
strophic and potentially violent infighting.
â•… The ruling party is hoping to capitalize on that divided opposition.
For the first time in Burkina Faso’s history, the ruling party elite—
which holds disproportionate influence over the landlocked country’s
politics—has coalesced behind a female consensus candidate, Maïmouna
Fadilatou. She is well regarded in international circles but has been
criticized extensively as being part of a dynastic system that allows
certain tribes and families to dominate the Burkinabé political scene.
Two decades ago, her family was pushed from power by a rival political
dynasty, and some say this will be their comeback. Nonetheless, inter-
national observers are cautiously optimistic about Fadilatou’s candi-
dacy, as fewer than one in five elected officials in this former colony are
women. Indeed, for more than half of the time since obtaining inde-
pendence from its colonial administrators, Burkina Faso has had no
female representation in the political sphere. Observers insist that
Fadilatou’s optimistic chances in the upcoming vote may therefore
signal a watershed moment in the divided West African nation.
â•… However, Western officials have also expressed concern that the elec-
tion could be unfairly manipulated by powerful donors, particularly
given the shadowy election financing system, which is subject to minimal
regulation as the rivals battle to secure power in Ouagadougou.Whether
the funding sways the electorate or not, international observers worry
that a close election could reignite slowly healing wounds between the
two factions, as Burkina Faso tries to move on from a damaging contest
nearly two decades ago, when an unelected court overruled voters,
handing victory to a candidate who had received half a million fewer
votes than his opponent. Democracy in Burkina Faso is clearly being
threatened by this potentially explosive campaign.
â•… Except, of course, that none of this is about Burkina Faso. It’s about
the United States in 2016.
â•… Try re-reading the above section, but substitute Donald Trump for
Ousmane Aboubacar; Hillary Clinton for Maïmouna Fadilatou; the
United States for Burkina Faso; immigrants from Mexico for immi-
grants from Togo; and Washington DC for Ouagadougou. (The
Burkinabé names are made up. Burkina Faso recently had elections in
late 2015 after a military coup).

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â•… In this chapter, I argue that the overly myopic geopolitical view of
“The West” vs. “The Rest” is particularly flawed today, given the short-
comings of Western democracies. This is not to say that Western
democracies are not democratic—they most certainly are. Western
governments, like the United States, stand strong as citadels of and for
democracy that other nations can emulate. But it’s still important to
stress that some aspects of democracy promotion would be better
facilitated if Western democracies took criticism of their own flaws
and procedural anomalies more seriously. The attitude that “we are
perfect, and you must learn from us” is counterproductive and often
insulting. In democracy promotion as in life, it’s easier to lecture oth-
ers on their failings and press them to do better when they cannot
turn your criticisms against you; telling someone to quit smoking
from a gray haze of your own is not the most effective strategy. The
credibility of Western democracy promotion therefore turns on
whether or not Western nations can lead by example. Nobody wants
to mimic a broken system. Today, too many components of Western
democracy are underperforming.
â•… In 1988, Ronald Reagan gave his farewell address from the Oval
Office. In closing, he invoked one of his favorite lines of imagery, liken-
ing the United States to a “shining city on a hill,” a beacon that the rest
of the world can always look up to see for inspiration.1 Writing in
1630, John Winthrop, an early Pilgrim settler to the United States,
popularized the line. But its original source is the Bible—Matthew
5:13: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid-
den.” Reagan signed off from the presidency by eloquently elaborating
on that same reference, saying:
After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the
granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And
she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all
the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the dark-
ness, toward home.2
â•… It’s beautiful imagery, a powerful metaphor, and one that is unfortu-
nately becoming less apt. Parts of American democracy seem to be
breaking off from the “granite ridge” and sinking into a dank, undemo-
cratic swamp rather than perching tranquilly atop a shining hill.

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â•… As a bloc, Western governments represent most of the world’s major
bastions of democracy. They are not the only ones, of course, but they
are the longstanding rock that governments around the world have
turned to as they formed their own democratic foundations. However,
nearly two decades into the twenty-first century, the crisis of democracy
is not just a global one; it’s also a Western one. Western democracies are
struggling. Some of their practices are undemocratic and deeply flawed.
This “hypocrisy” of promoting democracy abroad while simultaneously
failing to address democratic challenges at home rings hollow.
â•… In the European Union, the Eurozone crisis has prompted accusa-
tions of a serious “democracy deficit.”3 Technocrats have a dispropor-
tionate role that is insulated from democratic pressures. Turnout for
European Parliament elections is notoriously low, and there is a “dis-
connect” between voters and their representatives that is more pro-
nounced with European institutions than any similar phenomenon at
the national level. Indeed, 12 million more Brits voted for Big Brother,
a major reality television program in the UK, than voted in their coun-
try’s 1999 European Parliament elections.4 However, turnout for such
elections is not markedly different from stubbornly low turnout in
congressional midterm elections in the United States (just 36.4
per cent of eligible voters in 2014, the lowest level since 1942).5 This
€

cannot absolve the European Parliament of its failure to hold elections


that are sterling examples of democratic process. But it can highlight
the fact that there are troubling trends throughout Western democra-
cies that speak to a series of related concerns: voter apathy, structural
procedural deficiencies, and gridlock in the face of increasingly urgent
global challenges. Simply put, most people in Western countries are
not confident that their democracy is performing as well as it should
be. The rise of Donald Trump is a culmination of these fault lines in
Western democracies; he is a candidate who could only be spawned by
an electorate driven to anger by overwhelming dissatisfaction with the
ability of democratic politics to deliver what it promises: consensus and
concrete results, rather than partisan bickering and gridlock.
â•… Democracy in the United States has recently been performing badly
on several fronts, and most of them are due to three major pitfalls:
gerrymandering, ensuing gridlock, and out-of-control campaign
spending. Each of these, in turn, erodes international admiration of the

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CITY ON A SWAMP
American model of democracy, and further undermines Western
efforts to promote democracy while dragging the proverbial city fur-
ther down the hill toward the swamp.
â•… The lesson, however, is not to stop promoting democracy. Instead,
the lesson is to work to fix democracy at home while promoting several
possible democratic models—not just the American one—abroad. After
all, amidst the wide array of global diversity in cultures, political sys-
tems, and historical trajectories, the real world is not a place where “one
size fits all” approaches thrive. American democracy is not the only form
of democracy and it should not be presented as such—particularly
given the problems that are plaguing American democracy today.
â•… Imagine a system of government where incumbents are re-elected
more than nine times out of ten, where sitting members of the legisla-
ture tend to win in landslides—by an average of 36 per cent greater
€

vote share than their nearest competitor. In this same system, some
systematic procedural flaws end up producing surprising outcomes; at
times, more than half the voters might vote for one party, only to see
seven out of ten representatives elected for the other side.
â•… Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much imagination, because again, this is
the case today in the United States. In a quarter of all congressional races,
the incumbent wins with a margin of more than 50 per cent of the
vote—something like 75 per cent to 25 per cent, or wider.6 Such elec-
tions are not remotely competitive, and the opposition candidate is sim-
ply put up as a sacrificial lamb hoping to garner more name recognition
as they walk sheepishly to their inevitable electoral slaughter. In 2012,
John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, won re-election
with Kim Jong-un-style margins, receiving 99.2 per cent of all votes.
€

How can this be? After all, the United States is widely regarded as a
divided country, wherein a presidential contest is considered a landslide
if the electorate is split 55/45, rather than a more usual 52/48 type of
split.Why are the margins so drastically different when it comes to elect-
ing Congress?
â•… One of the most important answers, of course, is gerrymandered
districts—an enormously consequential challenge to American democ-
racy, yet one that very few people care about. The term “gerrymander”
comes from a political cartoon drawn in 1812 to parody Massachusetts
Governor Elbridge Gerry’s re-drawn senate districts. The cartoon

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
depicts one of the bizarrely shaped districts as the contorted form of a
fork-tongued salamander, standing menacingly over the other, more
traditionally shaped districts. The term “Gerry-mander” was born, and
in the following two centuries, it has been used to great effect (in the
United States and elsewhere) to divide the electorate and distort the
will of voters by arranging districts into strategically beneficial chunks.
In most states, the process of drawing districts is deeply politicized;
more often than not, state legislatures get to decide, which is akin to
the electoral foxes guarding the henhouse districts.
â•… The practice would be laughable if its consequences weren’t so
disastrous. Democrats and Republicans are both guilty. In the Illinois
4th, for example, the district looks like a pair of earmuffs turned on
their side, a thin line connecting the two ear warmers.7 A less chari-
table interpretation would be that it seems like a severely distracted
child has colored in parts of the electoral map at random, or spilled a
bottle of ink somewhere on the map just west of Chicago. But it’s
anything but random. Others have dubbed the Illinois 4th “Latin
Earmuffs”, because each side of the earmuffs links up two completely
distinct blocs of Latino voters. It’s absurd in its cynical simplicity. The
lines were drawn based on race and partisanship but little else. Really,
there seems to be no other way to interpret it; the areas linked together
have nothing else in common. At one point, the district is stitched
together by a sliver of highway a few dozen meters wide. That’s it.
Google it. You’ll be shocked. As a result, 71 per cent of the district is
€

Latino by design. Unsurprisingly, a Latino congressman, Luis Gutiérrez,


represents the district. His margins of victory match the absurdity of
his district’s shape. In 2014, Gutiérrez won with 78 per cent of the
€

vote, compared with 22 per cent for his Republican opponent. As a


€

result of favorable district lines, he has easily stayed in office since


1993, re-elected every two years like clockwork.
â•… There are three main ways to gerrymander, which political scientists
refer to as “stacking, cracking, and packing.”89 The Illinois 4th congres-
sional district is a case of “packing,” wherein an overwhelmingly
Democrat-leaning minority population (in this case Chicago-area
Latinos) are lumped into a single district so as to ensure that they did
not influence the outcome of surrounding seats. The idea is to give that
Democrat-leaning community one seat in a landslide victory, rather

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CITY ON A SWAMP
than allowing a fairer distribution, which would make other surround-
ing districts competitive. As a result of the packing in the Illinois 4th,
the nearby Illinois 6th Congressional district is not competitive either,
guaranteeing a safe Republican seat in a form of engineered electoral
tit-for-tat. And, because most of the Latinos in the area are crammed
into the 4th, 85 per cent of the 6th district is white. So is their Congress�
€

man, Republican Representative Peter Roskam, who has also been in


Congress since 1993. In 2014, Roskam carried the district by a margin
of 67 per cent. If the districts were drawn as a square or even some-
€

thing that resembled a coherent blob, the elections would regularly be


competitive. Instead, they are always safe-bet landslides, foregone
conclusions before the ballots are even printed.
â•… Such gerrymandered districts are a problem for three main reasons.
First, they produce undemocratic outcomes, drawing lines strategically
to dampen the voices of some voters while amplifying the voices of
others. This can result in some truly bizarre election results, as was the
case in North Carolina in 2012. More than half of the state’s voters cast
their ballot for a Democrat, by a narrow margin of 51 per cent to
49€per cent. But, because of gerrymandered districts, Republicans won
nine of the state’s thirteen seats, or 70 per cent of the total.10 More
€

than half of the votes received less than a third of the seats. It’s undem-
ocratic, plain and simple. Countries like Zimbabwe have learned from
it, gerrymandering their own districts using the lessons of “successful”
gerrymandering in the United States.11
â•… Second, drawing districts in order to create “safe” seats has huge
knock-on effects that damage the core of democracy: constructive dia-
logue and consensus building. In the 2014 elections, thirty-four of the
fifty states did not have a single competitive congressional election. In
other words, in only sixteen states was there any sense of suspense head-
ing into election day about who might win, and even within those states,
only a handful of districts were competitive. Only twenty-six congres-
sional races (out of 435) were decided by a margin of 5 per cent or less.12
€ €

Out of 79 million votes cast, fewer than 5 million were cast in competi-
tive districts. And in 2012, only nineteen Republicans were elected in
districts that President Obama won in the concurrent presidential elec-
tion; this represented a sharp decline from even a few election cycles
earlier—in 1992, seventy-nine Republican congressmen were elected in

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
districts carried by President Clinton. In the United States Congress, the
political middle has become almost undetectably small.
â•… No wonder voter turnout was lower in 2014 than it had ever been
since 1942. But beyond voter apathy, uncompetitive districting
destroys moderates and is a major boon to extremists who eschew
cross-party dialogue and avoid working with the opposing party. After
all, there is no need for responsiveness, humility, or bipartisanship
when 95 per cent of a district is solidly Republican or Democrat.
€

Instead, there are rewards for elected officials who choose ideology
and partisan deadlock over progress and compromise.
â•… This leads to the third consequence of gerrymandering, and the
second major failure of American democracy: gridlock. As safe seats
drive polarization, polarization drives gridlock. People in Washington
often aren’t willing to compromise, lest they be exposed as a capitulat-
ing weakling on the 24-hour cable news television shows that pander
to fringe wings of the electorate. Moreover, they have no incentives to
compromise, because for most representatives, a solid majority of their
home district shares the same worldview. Congressional districts have
become partisan echo chambers.
â•… This dynamic goes a long way in explaining why 96 per cent of the
€

incumbent members of Congress were re-elected in 2014, even though


between 9 and 15 per cent of respondents tend to say that they approve
€

of Congress as a whole. In a particularly striking 2013 poll, respondents


indicated that they liked both traffic jams and cockroaches more than
they liked Congress.13 But the poll did have some bright spots for
Congress, which narrowly edged out playground bullies in popularity
and held a commanding lead over Ebola (although, admittedly, a quarter
of all respondents did say they liked Ebola more). Regardless of popular-
ity, though, congressional representatives who originate from homoge-
nous and overwhelmingly supportive districts have every incentive to be
confrontational and no incentive to stand down when it comes to parti-
san gridlock. The result is unnecessary brinksmanship.
â•… The point was proven with an atrocious display on 1 October 2013,
€

when the United States government shut down as a result of partisan


bickering over funding President Obama’s health care law. The standoff
lasted for sixteen counterproductive days even though more than eight
out of ten Americans disapproved of the shutdown and a similar pro-

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CITY ON A SWAMP
portion agreed that it “damaged the United States’ image in the
world.”14 This coincided with an incredibly reckless form of gridlock as
the United States flirted with default on its massive government
debt—the Republican Party’s conservative Tea Party faction held the
entire nation’s credit rating hostage in a bid to force budgetary conces-
sions. The showdown, which amounted to nothing, resulted in the
United States’ normally sterling credit rating being downgraded. It was
an incredibly stupid self-inflicted wound at a time when the country
needed all the help it could get to crawl out of the financial doldrums
ushered in by the 2008–9 financial crisis.
â•… Those doldrums, however, didn’t diminish the flood of money that
poured into campaign coffers across the United States in the wake of
the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal
Election Commission. In that case, the Supreme Court effectively ruled
that corporate donations on behalf of political causes (rather than to
candidates directly) are akin to a form of free speech. This opened the
floodgates further by spawning so-called Super PACs (political action
committees), through which corporate interests or rich individuals
could funnel unlimited amounts of money to back their favored issue
or candidate. After this court ruling, the dam burst; in the 2012 elec-
tions, donors channeled $7 billion into the race, the same amount as
the annual GDP of countries like Niger, Rwanda, or Kyrgyzstan.15 The
2016 elections are expected to be far more costly. But even though
the sum is enormous, that’s not the real problem. Rather, it’s the fact
that the money is skewing politics by allowing groups with funds a
disproportionate influence, making a mockery of the one person, one
vote principle that is the “granite ridge” to which democracy should
be anchored.
â•… Take the wild and unpredictable 2016 presidential campaign, for
example. In just the first six months of 2015, a key period for candi-
dates to prove that they can elicit financial support from donors, a New
York Times analysis demonstrated that just 158 families accounted for
more than half of the value of all political donations nationwide during
that period. Each of those families gave at least $250,000, with the
Texan fracking magnates of the Wilks family topping out the list with
donations totaling $15 million. That sum is peanuts, though, com-
pared with the nearly $900 million pledged by the Koch Brothers and

185
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
their political affiliates. As The NewYork Times points out, “the group of
donors is overwhelmingly ‘white, rich, older and male in a nation that
is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown
voters.’”16 In other words, as demographics shift, American politics
seems stuck in a distant past because of disproportionate clout for
those with fat wallets.
â•… The combination of outlandish sums of money being spent to win
elections and the similarly extreme amounts being thrown at elected
officials through lobbying efforts17 is damaging the quality of American
democracy. A striking Princeton University study from 2014 found an
alarming result: “The preferences of the average American appear to
have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact
upon public policy.”18 Translated from political science-speak to con-
versational English, that means that popular opinion doesn’t really
seem to affect which laws pass and which ones do not. If the voices of
the people don’t matter as much as we might hope, money still speaks
loudly in contemporary American politics.When a majority of Americans
oppose something but powerful moneyed interest groups support it,
the average Americans almost always lose.
â•… Take the issue of gun regulation, for example. It’s abundantly clear
that the United States has a problem with gun violence. In the wake of
the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which left twenty chil-
dren dead just before the Christmas holidays in 2012, 92 per cent of
€

Americans indicated that they supported a legal change to ensure that


all gun sales were conducted with background checks, including those
that currently avoid those checks through a legal loophole.19 Yet when
the bill went before Congress, it failed in a 54 to 46 vote. There was no
doubt: the National Rifle Association had once again gotten its way.
â•… I saw these tactics firsthand. Before I started a career trying to
understand international politics, I worked as an intern on Capitol Hill
for US Senator Mark Dayton and later as his deputy campaign manger
and policy director during his successful bid to become governor of
Minnesota. Mark (for he insists that all his staff call him by his first
name) was and is a Democrat with a moderate record on gun con-
trol—a crucial viewpoint to get elected in Minnesota, a state home to
many avid hunters. His generally pro-gun stance was one I disagreed
with, but it taught me a valuable lesson. The National Rifle Association,

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CITY ON A SWAMP
one of the most powerful lobbying groups in America, had previously
awarded him their highest “A” rating when he campaigned for the US
Senate.20 Then, in 2005, Senator Dayton voted to ban bullets that were
made to pierce heavy-duty body armor, a feature of ammunition that
is hugely helpful if you want to kill police officers, but not quite so
necessary if you’re shooting at an unarmored deer. Overnight, the
NRA changed Senator Dayton’s rating from an “A” to an “F” and began
funding his opponents. This is how reason dies in politics. As a pro-gun
Democrat, he was everything the NRA should have hoped for across
the aisle. Instead, they put him in their crosshairs.
â•… On the other hand, Mark was born rich and he is (in my admittedly
biased view) a tenacious, dedicated, and tirelessly hard-working politi-
cian. This combination allowed him to overcome the NRA, run for
governor, and win. He inherited millions from his father, a department
store scion who instilled in his children the importance of giving back
to a community that had given their family so much. Even though I
found Mark substantially more comfortable sitting in a plaid shirt in a
rundown café of the rural and rusting northern Minnesota Iron Range,
he was nonetheless part of the socioeconomic elite. As a result, to the
chagrin of his fundraising team, Mark didn’t spend his campaign days
calling donors and eliciting their support. “I do most of my fundraising
while I’m shaving in the mirror in the morning,” he would regularly
joke with us.
â•… This feature of Mark’s campaign was welcome news to me, as staff in
flagging American electoral campaigns can sometimes be left in limbo as
to whether their paycheck will arrive after an eighty-hour work week.
Such financial independence can also confer political independence in an
era where the average American overwhelmingly believes that elected
representatives can be bought and sold.With politicians stubbornly unre-
sponsive to the will of the masses on several issues while bowing to well-
financed organizations, it’s no wonder that some people find it appealing
when Donald Trump insists (rightly or wrongly) that his wealth makes
him politically independent. The surprisingly resilient appeal of Trump
should be reason enough for us to pause and wonder if the campaign
finance system should, finally, be fixed.
â•… Thankfully, with the right political will, gerrymandering, ensuing
gridlock, and campaign finance problems could be solved. The solutions

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
are not difficult. California, for example, which has hardly been an exem-
plar of good governance, has nonetheless largely fixed its gerrymander-
ing problem.21 An independent commission, rather than a partisan politi-
cal body, now draws district lines. Iowa has also reformed its system.
Over time, those districts are likely to become more moderate and
increasingly based on consensus. The model is easy to replicate and proof
already exists that it works. But it requires Republicans and Democrats
to put aside their personal short-term interests for the long-term inter-
ests of the nation, and that has become an increasingly hard sell in 2016,
when the deficit of trust and respect between the two parties may be at
an all-time nadir. However, if reform can somehow be achieved more
widely, gridlock would become an irregular occurrence rather than a
routine feature of Washington’s political landscape.
â•… Campaign finance re-regulation can solve out-of-control campaign
spending. If the Supreme Court opened a judicial Pandora’s box and
can’t or won’t close it, it may be up to the American people to stuff it
all back in, with a constitutional amendment invalidating the notion
that unlimited corporate donations are a form of political free speech.
Most democracies don’t have this problem, so there’s no reason to
believe that campaign finance reform would bring the political sky
falling down.
â•… At least in the short-term, though, the problems that plague
American democracy are not going anywhere. What does this mean? Is
it time to sound the death knell of American democracy and throw in
the towel with promoting democracy around the globe too? Far from
it. American democracy is still a well-designed system that has produced
enduring stability and steady growth through turbulent times. But it is
important to acknowledge and openly address the fact that the American
model is not the only viable one out there, and that other nations may
not be insane to look at it with some sense of distaste. After all, I’m not
sure what I would think as a reformer in Papua New Guinea being told
to gravitate toward the shining “city on a hill” when the man perched
atop that hill is sometimes an angry, tomato-faced Donald Trump, pro-
claiming that his main foreign policy adviser is “myself, number one,
because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”22
â•… To their credit, democracy promotion organizations have made use
of some genuinely good brains in recent years. They have made strides

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CITY ON A SWAMP
since the early 1990s but are still limited by a myopic homegrown
view of what democracy is and is not. Previously, there was a major
sense of bias coming from the individual organizations. USAID
hawked the American model, while the British development agencies
would try to sell Westminster-style democracy instead, and so on.
That mistake has diminished but not disappeared. The best technical
assistance offers a democracy smorgasbord, showcasing the best parts
of several systems in the hope that local decision-makers can pick and
choose off the available menu and come up with a dish that suits their
culture and politics.23
â•… This is an important step, but it could be further augmented by
genuinely introspective evaluations of Western democracy by the same
standards that Western governments apply elsewhere around the globe.
As Thomas Carothers pointed out in an early 2016 article, “it was a
useful step forward when Freedom House, a non-profit dedicated to
political rights and civil liberties, issued for the first time in 2008 a
probing report on the state of freedom in America to complement its
usual focus on the state of freedom ‘out there’.”24 Moreover, German
foundations like the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Konrad
Adenauer Foundation routinely apply their evaluations to German
democracy. These may seem like symbolic gestures, but they can help
at home while simultaneously eviscerating the critique from abroad
that democracy promotion is a uniquely imperialist exercise of do what
I say, not what I do.
â•… On the other hand, some attempts to situate American democracy
in a global context have gone too far. A recent report from the Electoral
Integrity Project, an ambitious and important multinational scholarly
research program, ranked American election quality as on a par with
Colombia, but below Rwanda, Mongolia, and South Africa.25 That is
too much; elections in Rwanda are largely uncompetitive, and oppos-
ing the president can get you killed—even by assassins if you’re living
abroad (see Chapter 5). There is a middle ground between such hyper-
bole that claims American democracy is as bad as an authoritarian
strongman’s rule to the other end of the spectrum, which pretends that
American democracy is still a sparkling city on a hill. The truth lies in
between, and that truth needs to be confronted in order to spread
democracy more effectively while undermining the impulse to pursue
a competing authoritarian model.

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… When I was in Zambia in late 2012, I met with several former advis-
ers of Frederick Chiluba, the former president. One of the most con-
troversial moves of his presidency arose in the early 2000s, when
Chiluba announced his intention to repeal term limits and stand for a
third five-year term, which was expressly prohibited under Zambia’s
constitution. Significant opposition from civil society and rival politi-
cians—along with the international community sounding the alarm
bells—stymied the proposal.26 But when I asked them about it, with
perhaps a hint of consternation in my biased Western voice, several had
the same retort ready to go: “You have the Bushes, the Kennedys, and
maybe even the Clintons.Yes, we wanted the term limits gone. But are
we so different?”27 They had a point, even though I explained to them
that modern term limits were ironclad in the United States, and that
each Bush had been elected in a popular vote. It was unthinkable to
imagine George W. Bush trying to get rid of term limits to stay in
€

power in the same way that African despots were increasingly doing
across the continent. “Yes, but Bush didn’t win the most votes, did he?”
several unhelpfully chimed in. Touché.
â•… Most democracy promotion officials could fill a notebook with these
types of retorts. They are getting harder to just laugh off. Western
nations still play host to most of the best democracies in the world. But
several of them, including their superpower leader, have ample reason
to look inward while projecting the virtues of democracy outward.
They need to lead by example. This is particularly true because alter�
native—and undemocratic—models are emerging, challenging the
ideological dominance of the notion that democracy is the most desir-
able form of government, or at least, as Churchill put it, the worst
form except for all the others. The confluence of recent events has seen
China and Russia rise and reassert themselves on the global stage at the
same time as Western democracy is facing unprecedented challenges,
from the surge in right-wing populism to the Eurozone crisis. As a
result, this is a critically important time for Western governments to
rise to the challenge. Otherwise, nations stalled between dictatorship
and democracy will look east rather than west, casting the American
eagle into the swamp and placing the Chinese dragon and the Russian
bear atop a dark authoritarian hill instead.

190
13

THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON

The ten principles outlined above all show a way for the West to rein-
vent its flawed approach to advancing democracy across the globe.
While the West acts too often as the despot’s accomplice—sometimes
inadvertently and other times as an accepted tradeoff carried by com-
peting economic and security interests—Russia and China prop up
authoritarian regimes unblinkingly. They’re often frustratingly good at
it too. The success of the preceding ten principles therefore relies on
an overarching ability to dampen the anti-democratic influence of those
two major world powers, de-clawing the bear and extinguishing the
dragon’s fire. Otherwise, they’ll continue to inhibit democracy on con-
tinents near and far. Western governments are not accomplices to
Russia or China, which are geopolitical enemies of most Western gov-
ernments. But understanding their anti-democratic influence is crucial
to any strategy that aims to reverse the losses in democracy over the
last decade.
â•… There are two challenges that need to be addressed when it comes
to Russia and China’s impact on global democracy. First, both coun-
tries provide an alternative model to liberal democracy. The more that
China and Russia succeed, the more regimes searching for a rising
place in the world will be tempted to replicate those undemocratic
systems. This is much more credible in the case of China, which has
managed to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty while

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
still ruling with an iron fist. Russia’s success has been more tepid inter-
nally, but its aggressive foreign policy adventures have nonetheless
earned it many admirers. Both China and Russia attempt to actively
project the value of their models to potentially friendly states around
the world.
â•… Second, in a more direct effect, Russia and China prop up friendly
despotic regimes wherever they can. Both countries are opportunists.
China’s regime can fly much further afield, with plenty of domestic eco-
nomic might providing ample lift to their foreign policy. On the other
hand, Russia’s direct lumbering influence is limited mostly to Eastern
Europe and the Middle East because of the size of its economy (few
people realize that Italy’s total GDP surpasses Russia’s).1 Its lackluster
performance has only grown more fragile in the context of low global oil
prices. In terms of anti-democratic influence, though, Russia punches
well above its economic weight. Belarus provides an illustrative example
of how Russian influence can create a democratic reversal.
â•… In 1991, Stanislav Shushkevich, an unlikely Belarusian politician,
signed an agreement that signified the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Shushkevich, who was born five years before World War II broke out,
started his career as a nuclear physicist. Alongside that work, he taught
Russian to earn some extra cash on the side. Unexpectedly, one of his
pupils in Minsk was none other than Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin
who killed John F. Kennedy in 1963.2Yet it turned out that Shushkevich’s
€

contribution to Belarusian history would be much more than that


bizarre tutoring footnote linking East to West.
â•… Unlike many countries that fought hard for their independence, the
collapsing Soviet empire dragged Belarus into statehood somewhat
unwillingly.3 There were serious birthing pains, as one would expect
when one nation splinters into many. As one of the westernmost parts
of the Soviet Union, Belarus played host to an enormous frontline
arsenal, which included an array of nuclear weapons. A quarter of a
million Soviet troops were based in Belarus, which was clearly an
untenable proportion for a country of 10 million people.4 Those Soviet
holdovers had to be dealt with but there was no precedent to follow.
What was to be done? Shushkevich, a scientist at heart who had only
recently entered the political fray, was tasked with answering those
difficult questions as the first Belarusian head of state. His first job was

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THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
a daunting one: establish a sovereign democratic country from the
ruins of the authoritarian Soviet Union.
â•… Shushkevich succeeded. Belarus rapidly democratized. But after three
years in power, Alexander Lukashenko, a charismatic authoritarian popu-
list, accused Shushkevich of being corrupt. The evidence was flimsy, but
the accusation helped Lukashenko win a commanding (and arguably free
and fair) victory in the 1994 presidential elections.5 If Shushkevich’s first
task as leader had been building a democratic state, Lukashenko wasted
no time in dismantling it. As happens all too frequently without proper
safeguards, democracy ensured its own undoing.
â•… I met Shushkevich in December 2015 in his modest, bleak, rundown
apartment block in Minsk as temperatures plunged well below freez-
ing. The gray building was a perfect caricature of brutalist Soviet archi-
tecture. It was hard to believe that I was heading to the home of a
former head of state as I rode the rusty iron cage elevator upward
through an aging and cracked concrete shaft. Either the accusations
about Shushkevich being corrupt were grossly untrue, or he had man-
aged to lose a hell of a lot of cash in the intervening years.
â•… When Shushkevich opened the door, I was even more surprised by
the man than by the modest location. A distinguished, portly 81-year-
old statesman stood before me in a shiny bright blue athletic tracksuit.
An exercise bike that had surely been purchased in the 1980s was in the
foyer of his cramped, cluttered apartment. He smiled and welcomed
me: “Take your shoes off. Put on these slippers.Your feet will get cold.”
â•… As my interpreter translated what he had said, Shushkevich shoved
a pair of impressively fluffy white slippers into my hands. Somewhat
dumbfounded, I replaced my shoes with the slippers. With more
appropriate footwear, he led me into his study and began to talk about
how Belarusian democracy had been dismantled piece by piece during
the mid-1990s, until there was nothing democratic left. In particular,
Shushkevich lamented how his successor, Lukashenko, got away with
it. “The 1994 election was genuine democracy,” he explained. “EveryÂ�
thing that came after it was not.” And, he told me, it was all made
possible with Russia’s help.
â•… At the same time that the rest of Eastern Europe was democratizing,
Belarus made reintegration with Russia an official state policy goal.
Lukashenko beat Shushkevich in the 1994 elections partly because of

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
Lukashenko’s pro-Russian campaign, which emphasized nostalgia for
the Soviet Union. As the West tried to push for a continued advance of
Belarusian democracy, the pull of Russia was too great. In 1996,
President Lukashenko signed an agreement with Russian President
Boris Yeltsin that created a community between the two nations, which
was later formally upgraded to the status of a political union.6 While
the proclaimed relationship was met with stops and starts as a result of
political disagreements, it was exceptionally clear that the Kremlin still
very much viewed Belarus as within its sphere of influence. The West
watched, with a feeling of powerless fatalism, as the formerly promis-
ing transition to democracy transformed into an authoritarian puppet
of Moscow.
â•… By 2002, with President Putin in the Kremlin, Russia floated the
idea of Belarus simply reintegrating into the Russian Federation as six
new oblasts (administrative divisions). This never came to pass, but
President Lukashenko repeatedly said that he felt that Belarus and
Russia were nonetheless “like brothers,” even if they retained formally
separate institutions.7 With Putin’s regime pumping cash, military
assistance, and subsidized natural gas into Belarus, no wonder he felt
such a familial bond.
â•… The West hoped to break up the family. In 2004, Congress, urged
on by George W. Bush, isolated Lukashenko’s regime by passing the
€

Belarus Democracy Act. The Act placed sanctions on Belarus and


called for them to remain in place until the regime reformed. As
Western pressure on Belarus mounted, Russia repeatedly acted like a
safety valve, diffusing pressure with ever-closer cooperation. In prop-
ping up Lukashenko, Putin ensured that any efforts to return to
Belarusian democracy would fail.8 Without Russian backing, Lukashenko
would not have had nearly so much latitude to act brutally in the face
of protests, or to crush dissent using the KGB. But with Putin waiting
€

in the wings, Lukashenko knew that Western pressure had its limits.
“He’s a thug, but he was Russia’s thug and that meant everything,”
Shushkevich told me. I thanked him, returned the slippers, and asked
him how else he spends his time these days. “I’m off to the airport
now. I’m presenting at a scientific conference.” I asked him where it
was. “Moscow,” he replied. The family bond endures, even if there are
growing sibling rivalries.

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THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
â•… Just weeks after this meeting, the European Union withdrew its
sanctions from Belarus in the hopes of prising Minsk from Moscow’s
grip.9 To do so, the first step was to take a softer stance and hope that
Europe could woo Lukashenko back. Even though relations between
Belarus and the West are thawing (inappropriately in my view, because
there has been no meaningful political reform), there is little reason to
be optimistic about Belarus’ prospects for democracy in the short or
medium term. Unless Russia completely collapses amidst its current
crisis with stubbornly low prices, Belarus has an important ally, and
one that can certainly help undermine Western pressure against Minsk.
It’s not so much that Russia wants to spread authoritarianism for the
sake of authoritarianism, but more that Russia is opportunistic and
wants to be sure that Belarus stays in its camp rather than defecting to
the democratic West. For the West, Russian support also changes the
calculation in Belarus. If Western ambassadors push too hard, they fear
that Lukashenko will be driven right back into a big old bear hug with
Putin. The specter of Putin’s recently proposed airbase in Belarus has
drawn that fear into even sharper focus in Western capitals.
â•… Explaining the democratic reversal of Belarus without reference to
Russian foreign policy is impossible. Today, Belarus remains authoritarian
partly because Russia continues to inhibit Western gambits to restart
democracy. Russia’s direct support for prospective authoritarian allies is
by no means unique to Belarus. Across areas that it deems to be in its
political neighborhood, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, Russia
continues to inhibit democratization with a foreign policy that provides
sanctuary and assistance to governments that should (and often do)
receive sanctions and admonition from Western governments.10 Yet
because the West doesn’t act with consistency, the status quo is often
even worse: Putin continues to get his way with an ally, while the West
naïvely hopes that a softer stance will pay dividends. It rarely does. It is
unlikely to be any different in Belarus in the coming years.
â•… However, it would be a mistake to suggest that Russia acts in such a
way because it opposes democracy above all other considerations.
Instead, Putin is ruthlessly pragmatic. This has sometimes led the
Kremlin to back the more democratic option abroad, so long as it suits
Russian interests. For example, after the ruling authoritarian Moldovan
Communist Party rejected a Russian proposal on how to deal with the

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
breakaway region of Transnistria in 2005, Putin actively backed the
much more strongly pro-democracy opposition.11 Of course, this is an
outlier. Russia overwhelmingly supports despots above democrats in
global politics.
â•… China is often less aggressive than Russia, but its effect on inhibiting
democracy is, if anything, more potent than Russia’s. What Russia did
for Belarus in the mid-1990s, China is doing for Thailand today. Most
recently, China has given Thailand political cover against Western pres-
sure, particularly in the context of the May 2014 coup d’état that
installed a military regime at the helm in Bangkok. Since 1932,
Thailand has “democratized” with a “one slow step forward, two quick
steps back” approach. The backward pace has recently accelerated,
thanks to the rising influence of Beijing in Bangkok.
â•… Understanding China’s anti-democratic influence in Thailand requires
some longer-term context. In the wake of the Asian financial crisis of
the late 1990s, a new political star emerged in the “Land of Smiles”:
Thaksin Shinawatra, a police officer turned media mogul who would
eventually rise to become the juggernaut in Thai politics. Since the late
1990s, Thailand has been roughly divided into two major political
camps known by colorful monikers: the Red Shirts and the Yellow
Shirts. While both sides have support from competing elite networks,
Thaksin’s Red Shirts have secured their electoral support primarily
from Thailand’s rural north. His supporters, rice farmers in particular,
have latched onto Thaksin’s populism and repeatedly voted for his party
in droves, propelling his party to victory. The Yellow Shirts, by con-
trast, tend to be more of a conservative force, with their strongholds
in Bangkok and in Thailand’s south.12
â•… Since 2000, Thaksin’s party has won every election, but the Yellow
Shirts (or the military) have wrestled power away from his network with
crippling protests, coups d’état, or, most often, both. There were coups
in 2006, 2008, and 2014.13 In earlier coups,Western governments would
react sternly, providing sufficient diplomatic pressure to force the army
back into the barracks even if that would still mean giving power to an
unelected civilian of the military’s choosing. Today, however, China’s soar-
ing influence in the region has changed the West’s calculation; the threat
of the dragon waiting in the wings has made the eagle a bit more timid
around its former roost.14 The American government worries that press-

196
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
ing Thailand too much on governance issues will cause it to re-orient
toward Beijing. To some extent, that fear is warranted.
â•… On 22 May 2014, Thailand’s military took power from an elected
€

civilian government in yet another coup d’état (Thailand is the most


coup-prone country on Earth, with nineteen successful and attempted
coups since 1932).15 In previous revolts, there had been a familiar
script: military takes power; military returns power to new civilian
regime friendly with the military; new civilian government writes new
constitution; civilian government fails in the eyes of the military; mili-
tary takes power again and the cycle repeats. The 2006 coup followed
this script. To a lesser extent, so did a “judicial coup” in 2008, in which,
the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) opposed the government
of Samak Sundaravej. In a stranger-than-fiction twist, Samak was
removed from power under the pretext of corruption, for receiving
small payments for hosting a cooking show called “Tasting and
Grumbling”. The Thai PAD movement successfully toppled a govern-
ment for making Pad Thai on television.16 It was strange, but it fit into
the mold of what political observers of Thailand had come to expect:
civilians being removed from power. It was business as usual.
â•… The 2014 coup was different. Rather than transferring governance
to an anointed civilian, the 2014 military junta (calling itself the
National Council for Peace and Order) decided to retain power for
itself in order to achieve its main stated goal: “to bring back happi-
ness.”17 In August 2016, the Thai junta successfully pressured voters
into adopting a new authoritarian constitution via a controversial ref-
erendum—even though few voters actually knew what was in that
constitution. It is unlikely that the NCPO will relinquish power before
at least late 2017, marking more than three years of formal junta rule.
Even then, the generals are attempting to ensure that they never have
to fully give up their grip on real power, even if an elected government
officially takes the reins. The timing of this strategic shift toward a more
hands-on military regime, as China has risen to become a major world
power, is no coincidence.
â•… Thailand’s struggle with democracy reflects several of the themes
that I’ve previously highlighted, but it also shows how China can act as
a spoiler at key moments in potential transitions to democracy. In
December 2014, just seven months after the latest military coup had

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
taken place, I found myself in what can only be described as Thailand’s
junta’s café. The hard part was getting a Thai soldier guarding the
Government House with a very large weapon to believe that I was in
the right place and was not, in fact, a confused tourist. Once inside, I
had coffee with Major General Werachon Sukondhapatipak, the junta’s
official government spokesman. In an effort to downplay the military
character of the government, he had traded in his uniform for an
immaculately pressed suit, looking more like a businessman than a
high-ranking officer. After exchanging pleasantries, he explained to me
why he thought the coup had taken place. His answer was grounded in
the context of large anti-government protests that had been clogging
Bangkok’s streets for months before the army stepped in. At times, the
protests had turned violent: “On 21 May, we decided we could not let
the situation go on. On 22 May, I was in the room—it was clear every-
one was acting only on their interest. We cannot let people continue to
die on a daily basis. We cannot let deadlock continue.”
â•… So, the military stopped the deadlock in the streets with force. It
deposed the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of former
prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had himself been deposed in
a prior coup d’état and forced into exile. The justification for this latest
coup, General Werachon argued, was to avoid further chaos. Explicitly
invoking failed transitions to democracy elsewhere, he suggested that
letting the situation play out without military intervention was a recipe
for disaster. “So many people have let ‘the people solve things them-
selves’—Ukraine, Syria, Iraq—and how many people have to die? If it
was 200 years ago, maybe we’d let a civil war happen but with a mod-
ern economy, the risk was too high.”
â•… Once the coup happened, though, the risks were much higher for
those who had previously been favorable to the toppled regime or who
dared to criticize the new one. Democracy was snuffed out in a day,
and so was dissent. Pravit Rojanaphruk, an Oxford-educated journalist
who wrote for The Nation daily newspaper in Bangkok, was watching
television on the night of the coup when he was surprised to see his
name appear in the government’s announcement of which people had
been “summoned” to report directly to the junta immediately. “I was
number six, the sixth ‘undesirable,’” he told me in a Starbucks at
Bangkok’s luxurious Siam Paragon mall, “my fear was only slightly
dampened by the pride that being sixth brought me.”

198
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
â•… Pravit was brought to a military camp in Ratchaburi Province to the
west of Bangkok for a bit of Orwellian “attitude adjustment”. The aim
was, he told me, “part intimidation and part Stockholm Syndrome. We
didn’t have a choice in going, but once we were there, they treated us
extremely well. We got to choose between steak and lobster for dinner
each night. The wine was $100 a bottle. And we even played a friendly
football match against our military captors.” The underlying message
behind this lavish seduction by imprisonment was crystal clear: “I was
told not to tweet, nor to write anything critical of the military. They
wanted some time to ‘settle into ruling’ without any criticism. They told
me I was being watched closely but they said so with a smile.” After a
week in detention, Pravit was released, but not forgotten. There is always
the specter of going back for further “attitude adjustment.”
╅ Others were not so fortunate in the wake of the coup. Dr Weng €

Tojirakarn, one of leaders of the so-called Red Shirts, had an ambivalent


relation with the party’s symbolic leader, Thaksin, but was an ardent
supporter of its political program. Dr Weng has advocated for democ-
€

racy for most of his adult life. He participated in the student-led pro-
democracy uprising in Thailand in 1973 and subsequent student protests
in 1976 that ended in a bloody university massacre. After the massacre,
Dr Weng joined the outlawed dissident Communist Party of Thailand,
€

fled Bangkok into the rural Thai jungle, and used his medical training to
help heal guerrillas.18 But by 2014, Dr Weng had been back in Bangkok
€

for some time as a major figure in the pro-Thaksin movement. At the


time of the coup, he was addressing a large crowd of supporters:
At about 2pm, I was told that they had announced a coup. After three or
five minutes, soldiers aimed an M16 and a pistol at my head. They seized
the microphone from me and I told them I would go with them if they
didn’t shoot or open fire on my supporters. Then they arrested me. They
put my wife—a 70-year-old lady—put her in a black hood and handcuffs.
I was thrown into a tiny cell and fed rotten chicken but at least they boiled
the chicken after it had rotted so I wouldn’t get sick. After seven days, they
released us and told us not to speak about politics or to go abroad. Our TV
station always has the risk of getting shut down or taken off the air. It’s
happened three times already. We cannot express anger about them but
they express hatred against us.
â•… I spoke to Dr Weng in an unused studio of the Red Shirts’ glitzy
€

modern television station, its offices a slightly odd sight perched above

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
a roller disco rink in a working-class shopping mall. The studio was still
broadcasting, but only in meaningless platitudes about the Red Shirts’
hope for a better future for all of Thailand. If anything critical were to
be broadcast, the station would quickly be taken off the air.
â•… Thais, not the Chinese, were responsible for the 2014 coup and the
subsequent crackdown. But the coup and its aftermath are the types of
events that should elicit biting chastisement from Western capitals, fol-
lowed by hard-nosed diplomacy and immense political costs. The reality
was far more muted. Western governments condemned the coup, but
they were mostly empty words. Several Western ambassadors told me
variations of the same trepidation: if we push the military regime too
much, other Western governments will just gain at our expense, or
worse, China will continue to encroach on our spheres of influence here.
And, indeed, China was the main beneficiary of this classic foreign rela-
tions prisoner’s dilemma. Western rhetoric against the coup was just
rhetoric. Foreign direct investment increased in the wake of the coup—
something that couldn’t be more different from the international
response to a geopolitically irrelevant country like Madagascar.
â•… What accounts for the muffled Western diplomatic response to
Thailand’s 2014 coup? Thailand has a longstanding alliance with the
United States, dating back 180 years but with intensified closeness
during the Cold War.19 Driving down Witthayu Road in Bangkok, the
leafy grounds of the American embassy sprawl endlessly. It is, by some
measures, the third largest American diplomatic mission in the world
(it was the second biggest until the Iraq War; the embassy in Beijing is
now second biggest). The vast embassy walls are adorned with painted
murals documenting “180 years of friendship” between Thailand and
the United States. That friendship grew dramatically with Thailand’s
strategic importance during the 1960s, as 25,000 troops were sta-
tioned in Thailand during key phases of the Vietnam War. At one point,
using Thailand as a staging base, “the annual cost of the bombs dropped
over North Vietnam and Laos exceeded the size of the Thai economy.”20
In return, Thailand benefited from the “Saudi Arabia Effect”, as the West
turned a blind eye to elite-level corruption and political abuse.
â•… At the end of the Vietnam War, Thailand became less geopolitically
important to the United States, but it remained a trusted partner and
a valuable one in the Cold War context and after the collapse of the

200
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
Soviet Union. In a show of the continued value placed on bilateral
relations between Thailand and the United States, the two governments
cooperate in joint military training exercises, codenamed Cobra
Gold.21 The exercises have taken place every year since 1982, whether
in tandem with a military junta or an elected civilian government.
â•… When the Berlin Wall collapsed, however, Western governments
pressed Thailand to democratize further. Thailand made progress
toward that goal, a paragon of counterfeit democracy that, at times,
flirted with a more consolidated form during repeated bouts of elec-
tions, but never quite got there. Even after the rise of Thaksin, an
elected populist, extrajudicial killings, corruption, and bad governance
persisted.22 The West initially pressed Thailand more aggressively on
these issues, exposing key human rights abuses and warning Thailand it
needed to improve in order to stay in the good graces of the West.
â•… But, over time, Western governments (and the United States in par-
ticular) have become increasingly timid in condemning Thailand’s gov-
ernment. The strategic importance that Thailand lost at the close of the
Vietnam War has resurged, as Western governments see the map of
Southeast Asia increasingly in terms of a zero-sum game against China.
Moreover, in the context of the early phase of the so-called War on
Terror, Bangkok may have bought itself a longer diplomatic leash with
the West by allegedly hosting a CIA “black ops” base codenamed
Detention Site Green at Udon Thani in northeast Thailand, near the
Cambodian border.23 In 2003, the George W. Bush administration
€

became even more willing to overlook Thailand’s governance problems


when the Thai government dispatched 400 troops to Karbala in Iraq to
fight under Poland’s command.24 These gestures of longstanding good-
will, combined with the increasingly credible rhetorical threat of a Thai
re-orientation toward China’s deep pockets, have been sufficient to
disarm the United States of key weapons in its diplomatic arsenal. Out
of geostrategic concern, Washington has been relegated to words but
not much else—even in the wake of blatantly undemocratic coups.
Such foreign policy weakness made clear to China that there was a ripe
opportunity to make diplomatic inroads against the United States in its
own backyard.
â•… To understand how that shift might be playing out, and how Thais
saw themselves in the Southeast Asian geopolitical tug-of-war between

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
the United States and China, I met with Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok
just before Christmas 2014. Abhisit became prime minister in 2008
after being placed in power by the “Pad Thai” coup. He is, in some
ways, a hybrid of east and west himself. Abhisit spent his formative
years at the elite Eton College boarding school just outside of London.
Then, he progressed onto St John’s College, Oxford, where he rubbed
elbows with the future British elite, including current foreign secretary
Boris Johnson. He is, therefore, someone who is sympathetic to
Western governments. He understands the West’s point of view far
better than most Thais. But upon taking power in 2008, no British
education could have prepared Abhisit for the complexities, disarray,
and violence of Thai politics.
â•… In the spring of 2010, his government found itself facing more than
100,000 protesters clogging the streets of Bangkok. The protesters
were angered by a judicial decision to seize billions of dollars worth
of assets from their symbolic leader, the exiled former prime minister
Thaksin Shinawatra.25 They demanded that Abhisit resign and call fresh
elections. The situation began to spiral out of control in April and May,
as hundred were injured in clashes between the security forces and the
protesters themselves. The government accused the pro-Thaksin pro-
testers of throwing grenades and inciting violence; the protesters
accused the security forces of using excessive force and killing pro-
testers. By early May, Abhisit was facing considerable internal pressure
to disperse the protesters. Over the course of several days in mid-
May, the military violently cracked down on the protests. While it is
difficult to say exactly what happened—the government claims, some-
what implausibly, that protesters started shooting while dressed as
soldiers—it is nonetheless clear that the government repression
involved snipers and live rounds fired into crowds. By its bloody end,
security forces had killed at least ninety people. Roughly 2,000 more
were injured.26
â•… Notably, the US State Department only issued a weak statement in
the aftermath of these events, and reserved its harshest criticism not
for its ally, the Thai government, but for the protesters: “We call on
both sides to show restraint and to work to resolve differences through
Thailand’s democratic institutions … However, we are deeply con-
cerned that Red Shirt supporters have engaged in arson targeting the

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THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
electricity infrastructure and media outlets and have attacked individ-
ual journalists.”27 This dry statement said nothing about soldiers firing
on protesters, even though that is widely regarded as the source of the
majority of deaths.
â•… Over tea at the posh Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok in late 2014, I
asked Abhisit if such diplomatic restraint from the United States—after
the recent coup in particular—could be attributed to worries about
China. “Of course,” he said, “Westerners are worried that Beijing’s rise
will correspond with Washington’s fall here in Thailand. And they may
be right to be worried, because the military government seems to be
headed that way.” When I pressed him for details on how that shift was
happening, he pointed to a burgeoning November 2014 infrastructure
deal for a 542-mile-long Sino-Thai rail link that would be part of a
larger regional connection between Thailand and China. The venture
was supposed to signal a stronger partnership between the two coun-
tries, each working to benefit the other. But when I met with him again
in March 2016 and asked the same question, he laughed. “Have you
seen the news today? They just announced that they aren’t working
together anymore. Instead, Thailand is just going to pay for it, hiring
Chinese contractors, Chinese companies to build the whole rail net-
work and we’re footing the bill alone.” China isn’t working with
Thailand as an equal partner but rather as a regional hegemon intent
on asserting itself in Southeast Asia, with a bold “take it or leave it”
approach. So far, Thailand seems willing to take it. This is a new fron-
tier in Sino-Thai relations, and it remains to be seen how they will
continue to develop when (or if) civilians return to power.28
â•… Deals like this have at least one clear effect: they are the equivalent of
a diplomatic shot across the bow from Thailand and China, warning the
West not to press too hard for democracy. General Prayuth Chan-ocha,
the junta’s leader turned prime minister, has repeatedly warned the West
against lecturing Thailand and pushing it to return to democracy rather
than charting its own unique Thai path forward. New forms of coopera-
tion between China and Thailand, like the rail deal, only further weaken
the West’s stomach for diplomatic pressure, worrying that further
attempts to draw Thailand back into the democratic fold will only ensure
that it defects to China more meaningfully and permanently. Dr Weng, €

the Red Shirt leader, is ethnically Chinese, as are many figures in the Thai

203
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
elite. He put it bluntly: “Thailand’s head is still with the United States,
but our closer culture gives our heart to China.”
â•… At the opposite end of the political spectrum from Dr Weng, I sug-
€

gested to Abhisit that perhaps Thailand had learned a key lesson from
the Soviet-American showdown in the Cold War and was attempting to
play the sides off against one another in the emerging Sino-American
showdown—to be courted by both while aligning firmly with neither.
He laughed, but stayed silent and didn’t disagree. Most importantly, he
lamented that the geopolitical dynamic was allowing the military rulers
to overstay their welcome due to China’s backing and tepid Western
pressure. Thailand could become yet another country cursed by low
Western expectations: “I worry not as a politician but as a Thai that the
military will retain a powerful oversight role, even after they claim a
return to democracy.” With China’s shadow hanging over Bangkok
politics, Thailand’s return to “democracy” is likely to be as a counterfeit
democracy at best, at least for a while. The proposed new constitution
effectively enshrines the military as the most important veto player in
the political system, seemingly legitimizing and making official the
demise of Thai democracy.
â•… In the meantime, Thailand’s political elite has been carefully watch-
ing US politics, trying to read the tea leaves for what might come next
after Obama leaves the Oval Office. Over omelets at a quiet outdoor
café in Bangkok seven months before America’s 2016 election, I asked
Thailand’s former foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, how he saw the
future of Thailand’s relations with the West, and the United States par-
ticularly. He had previously served as Thailand’s ambassador to the
Soviet Union and also to Germany, Japan, and the United States, so he
knows a thing or two about how to navigate geopolitical divides. “For
us, the Trump phenomenon is like a Broadway performance. And I
must say, we’re enjoying watching,” he said, laughing in between puffs
on his Sunday morning cigar:
But we need reassurances of the reliability of the United States. They are
behaving like a jilted lover because the military government was stupid
enough to turn toward Putin and China. That was our mistake. But we—
the democratic forces of Thailand—we need help. In our stupidity, we
have recently been acting as a vassal state to China, even though we pride
ourselves on a thousand years of independence.

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THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
â•… Nonetheless, Kasit told me of other initiatives that showcase some of
the exemplary work that Western governments are doing in Thailand, the
types of activities that should be celebrated and expanded:
The Swiss and the Norwegian embassies have been setting up informal
meetings for us to meet with the Red Shirts, our political adversaries, for
the last three years. It’s very helpful. I even half-jokingly suggested that
maybe I should go and see Thaksin in exile; I want to have another glass of
wine with him. I come from the diplomatic profession. I believe in talking
with one another.
â•… While Kasit praises some Western efforts, he has thus far been
unimpressed with American diplomacy in Thailand. In particular, he is
hoping that he will find a more robust partner for democracy in the
next administration, even if it doesn’t come wrapped in the gaudy glitz
of a blowhard’s Broadway performance:
The perception of Obama here is that he wavers too much and is a mini-
malist. He tries to avoid threats. But how can you do that as the president
of the United States? He, and eventually his successor, need to become
more engaged actively in a positive manner…I am still waiting for the
United States to work with the democratic forces of Thailand.
â•… He paused, thinking, dragging on his cigar. I asked him why he
thought China has been more effective in establishing closer relations
with Thailand since the coup. “Oh, well, the military government and
Beijing have much more in common—if the military stays in power,
it’ll make China more comfortable. They have like-mindedness. They
speak the same political language of authoritarianism and—” he cut
himself off, as a group of four young American backpacker girls with
knotted dreadlocks at the table adjacent began singing “Happy Birthday”
for someone in their traveling party. I started to ask a follow-up ques-
tion, but the eminent statesman firmly held out his hand to silence me
and joined in the singing. When the song concluded, he picked up again
mid-sentence as if nothing had happened, “and China feels like we are
giving them an opportunity to deal a blow, score points, against the
United States.”
â•… The experiences of Thailand and Belarus both demonstrate a key
lesson in the twenty-first-century battle for global democracy: China
and Russia can actively inhibit democracy by providing a credible alter-

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
native to the West as a powerful foreign partner. That risk not only
shores up the domestic power base of countries in their orbit, it also
forces the West to tread carefully; pushing too hard could drive a
potential ally into an alliance with a geopolitical enemy. Belarus and
Thailand couldn’t be more different, but their experiences have been
similar insofar as they have had more latitude to roll back democracy
thanks to diplomatic shielding from Russia and China respectively. For
the moment, Belarus is tilting ever so slightly away from Russia, while
Thailand tilts slightly toward China. It’s difficult to say whether these
trends will continue, but the pull of Russia and China is enough to
deeply damage the prospect of genuine democracy in each. Belarus has
shown no appetite for meaningful reform; Lukashenko remains a post-
Soviet dinosaur. Thailand’s new draft constitution proposes that a third
of the Senate will be military appointees, enshrining a veto point for
the generals to create a system of elections without democracy.
Together, though, these examples showcase the direct effect that bilat-
eral foreign relations can have on rolling back democracy at critical
points in faltering transitions. China’s reach in particular extends much
further than its own backyard; governments like Sudan and Zimbabwe
have received crucial boosts from their Sino relations, severely weaken-
ing Western pressure against those abhorrent regimes.29 Russia has less
reach but, where it is active, is no less menacing.
â•… That’s only one half of the problem. Aside from propping up des-
pots and peeling authoritarian regimes away from Western influence,
China and Russia may have an even bigger impact on global democracy
through the indirect effects of the model they provide to struggling
nations around the world. The more Russia and China succeed them-
selves, the more other governments will see their style of ruling as a
path forward, in contrast to the vision offered by Western liberal
democracy. This has become particularly threatening to the Western
model in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008–9, because China’s
economy grew by 9 per cent in 2009, while the economy of countries
€

like Japan contracted by more than 5 per cent.30 And, until late 2008,
“nearly every top Chinese official still lived by Deng Xiaoping’s old
advice to build China’s strength while maintaining a low profile in
international affairs.”31 Now, Beijing is promoting its pathway of
econo�mic, but not political, liberalization as the Beijing Consensus, a

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THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
term specifically modeled to parrot and mock the liberal Washington
Consensus. China’s government is actively trying to export it.
â•… As the strength of their models grows in the eyes of prospective
adopters from Latin America to Sub-Saharan Africa, China and Russia
are both using a multitude of tools to actively replicate similar gover-
nance around the globe. This is not to say that there is no genuine
standalone allure to China’s economic success or to the Kremlin’s abil-
ity to wield disproportionate might on the global stage. But it is to say
that any positive aspects of these two models are overshadowed by
serious drawbacks and shortcomings. Beijing and Moscow are aware of
these flaws. That’s why most of China’s and Russia’s diplomatic meth-
ods for spreading their respective models rely on some form or propa-
ganda or disinformation campaign.
â•… If you switch on your television in just about any hotel room these
days, you’ll be able to watch propaganda straight out of the Kremlin on
Russia Today, now re-branded just as RT to subtly obscure its funding
source. The programming is specifically designed to parry Western
accounts of global news, spinning each story as Putin would hope to
see it covered. While its unclear the extent to which Putin and his allies
control day-to-day programming, it is clear that there is no overarching
semblance of journalistic independence. The Kremlin has paid more
than $2 billion to fund RT since its inception in 2005.32
â•… While RT claims to reach roughly 700 million viewers, this figure is
one that simply represents its potential viewership where it is offered
as part of cable packages. In reality, RT viewership comprises less than
0.1 per cent of Europe’s television audience.33 In the United States, RT
€

doesn’t even garner enough regular viewers to score in many of the


cable ratings. Perhaps this is because its programming is often extreme
and frequently false. RT incorrectly claimed that Ukraine was commit-
ting genocide against pro-Russian separatists. One RT special report
suggested that the CIA had manufactured the Ebola virus and initiated
the recent crisis; this echoed Soviet propaganda claims in the 1980s
that the CIA was behind the AIDS virus and was using it to kill off
African-Americans.34 These absurd claims are one reason why RT’s
impact is limited. After all, its most popular YouTube videos include a
2010 clip of Vladimir Putin singing Fats Domino’s hit song Blueberry
Hill and a series of overly graphic videos of live births.35 Nonetheless,
RT’s existence is sufficient to provide an alternative Russo-centric nar-

207
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
rative as global events unfold, and that is meaningful. RT’s disinforma-
tion has worked in the past and it will work again.
â•… Take for example, the story of “Lisa,” a 13-year-old German-Russian
girl living in Berlin who briefly went missing from her home and
claimed that she had been raped in early 2016. Ivan Blagoy, a journalist
working for RT, alleged on air that the German authorities were
involved in a cover-up and that Lisa had been gang raped by Syrian
refugees. Russia’s foreign ministry stoked the fire of those accusations
on Twitter. The timing was not coincidental. German Chancellor
Angela Merkel was under intense political fire for her decision to wel-
come droves of refugees, and RT’s allegations set off waves of protests
in Germany that threw Merkel’s regime into disarray.36
â•… Yet after just rudimentary detective work, it became abundantly
clear that no refugees had been involved and that Lisa had made up the
entire story; she had run away from home and spent some time at a
19-year-old friend’s house. Was it dubious and worrying that a 19-year-
old man spent the night with a 13-year-old girl? Absolutely. Was it
worthy of spreading rumors at the diplomatic level and using media to
incite Germans to take to the streets against Merkel? Hardly. But for
RT, it was a diplomatic success. Many Germans likely do not know that
Lisa later recanted her story, yet her tale was splashed across German
headline news for days. Misinformation can be a potent weapon at
critical moments (Kermit Roosevelt working to incite the CIA’s 1953
coup in Iran would certainly agree). Fortunately this time, in Germany,
the consequences were not severe, though they could have been.
â•… Not to be outdone by Russia, the Chinese equivalent of RT, China
Central Television, or CCTV, has been more effective and is less out-
landish than its Russian counterpart. CCTV broadcasts in English,
Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish. It usually exports a softer ver-
sion of propaganda than RT, which tends to reflect China’s foreign
policy, generally less muscular than Putin’s saber-rattling, barrel-
chested provocations. In the 2016 Lunar New Year celebrations, for
example, CCTV broadcast a series of songs with titles like Without the
Communist Party,There Would Be No New China.37 It was propaganda, but
it wasn’t as insidious as the Lisa story. Even if CCTV’s content is less
provocative than RT’s, however, China clearly sees it as a major foreign
policy tool. CCTV has twelve bureaus in Latin America and is fanning

208
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
out across Sub-Saharan Africa. CCTV’s messaging also dovetails with a
sophisticated approach known as the “borrowed boat” strategy, aimed
at ensuring that China’s narrative ends up being broadcast on existing
media outlets in foreign markets too.38
â•… CCTV’s global goals are complemented by Confucius Institutes.
These well-funded non-profit organizations focus on teaching Chinese
language and culture in universities around the world. There is nothing
wrong with them in practice, but they do underscore the way that
China actively attempts to promote itself as an alternative to the
West—which becomes insidious when the lesson is drawn beyond
culture and language. In total, there are roughly 500 Confucius
Institutes in 130 countries as diverse as Bahrain, Armenia, Tunisia,
Sierra Leone, Azerbaijan, Romania, and New Zealand. In the United
States alone, China has established 109 Confucius Institutes, from the
Community College of Denver to San Diego State University.39 To fund
such a broad spread, China draws on a variety of sources, including a
“propaganda-industry tax” that has taken in 3 per cent of all profits
€

from publicly funded enterprises since 1992.40 Opacity is understand-


ably a hallmark of Beijing’s budgeting for propaganda, but analysts have
estimated the total costs of gambits like CCTV and the Confucius
Institutes to be around $7–10 billion annually—far more than the
United States spends on democracy promotion activities.41
â•… For RT, CCTV, and Confucius Institutes to work effectively, though,
Russia and China need to be seen favorably. That means they also need
to muddy the waters of Western criticism that sows doubt amongst
those who might be swayed against their respective models by reports
of human rights violations, bad governance, weak rule of law, corrup-
tion, and all the abuses that are routine in both authoritarian states.
â•… One of the interesting (and sometimes unfortunate) aspects of most
political debates is that when two opposing views exist, both tend to
receive coverage. This is often a great virtue of independent journalism
and of democracy itself, giving voice to the minority. But, as with top-
ics like climate change, it becomes a problem when there is one
accepted view and one fringe view that nonetheless receives equal
media attention. It gives rise to the impression that there is an even
split in opinion when there is no such thing.
â•… Exploiting this phenomenon, Russia and China have established a
series of Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations,

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
or GONGOs. These organizations, which purport to be non-govern-
mental, simply cloak government narratives in the more palatable shell
of a pro-government think tank or an institute that brands itself as a
human rights watchdog. In his fantastic book The Dictator’s Learning
Curve, Will Dobson documents how these GONGOs regularly release
conflicting pro-government reports to undermine the consistency of
messaging coming from Western NGOs that accurately highlight gov-
ernment abuses. Sometimes, it’s easier for journalists to take the safe
path by reporting disagreement and conflicting reports rather than
“taking sides” and ignoring reports from a GONGO.42 In other words,
they can be effective.
â•… Moreover, for genuine domestic NGOs that attempt to expose
regime abuses, Russia and China have mastered ways of choking their
ability to operate with seemingly unrelated crackdowns. For example,
NGOs operating in Moscow routinely face being shuttered for building
code infractions or allegedly unpaid water bills. Even when these
claims are unfounded (as they almost always are), they usually take
months to resolve, and the NGO is knocked out in the meantime—
while the Kremlin can plausibly deny any politically motivated involve-
ment. Both setting up GONGOs and shutting down legitimate NGOs
are critical efforts in muting the effect of Western criticism against the
Russian and Chinese modes of governance. Injecting doubt and contra-
dictory statements into such information wars helps ensure that
Western messaging about each government is diluted. Michael Weiss
and Peter Pomerantsev have aptly dubbed this phenomenon “the men-
ace of unreality.”43 In turn, governments that may flirt with the idea of
mimicking Beijing or Moscow are more likely to become fully seduced.
In this way, authoritarianism spreads more easily, as the two titans offer
an alternative vision for development—and one that struggling gov-
ernments may eagerly embrace. After all, there are a fair few despots
who may find it alluring to silence dissent with an iron fist while still
aggressively pursuing economic development. This is particularly true
if following China’s or Russia’s lead allows them to remain corrupt and
stave off genuine electoral challenges simultaneously.
â•… Even among such despots, though, most have found it difficult to fully
resist Western pressure to at least create a counterfeit democracy involv-
ing some form of (severely flawed) elections. When this happens, China

210
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
and Russia are ready to lend a helping hand too. Welcome to the world
of so-called “zombie” election monitors, sham election monitors claiming
to be independent observers.44 These groups publish lofty praise of
clearly rigged elections in order to create a perception of disagreement
when Western observers condemn electoral fraud.45 These groups have
ornate names like The Inter-Commission Working Group on Inter�
national Cooperation and Public Diplomacy of the Public Chamber of
Russia Elections and the Commonwealth of Independent States Observa�
tion Mission (CIS-EMO). Both gave full-throated endorsements of the
rigged 2013 election in Azerbaijan—the one that featured results being
published through an app the day before voting.
â•… Zombie monitors’ strategy has been successful enough to have
spawned copycats around the world, as authoritarian regimes attempt to
legitimize terrible elections in an “I’ll scratch your back by praising your
electoral fraud, if you scratch mine” arrangement. The groups doing the
scratching—“observing” but never condemning—have obscure names
like Observer Mission of the NGO Forum of the Organization of Black
Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the Observation Mission of the
Standing Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the
Caribbean (COPPPAL). These complement more powerful groups like
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has China and Russia as
two of its six core members. China sent monitors to notoriously flawed
elections in Zimbabwe and to Madagascar’s 2013 elections, even though
China doesn’t hold national elections itself. With this obscure alphabet
soup of zombie monitors, authoritarian regimes across the world use the
models developed by Russia and China to challenge credible Western
monitors’ claims of electoral fraud. As I’ve highlighted previously,
Western monitors have their flaws too, but these pale in comparison with
the zombie monitors sent by the Kremlin.
â•… Cumulatively, the Chinese dragon and the Russian bear are formi-
dable foes in the quest to stop the stagnation and decline of global
democracy. They are the true despot’s accomplices, as despotic regimes
themselves, actively seeking to prop up similarly authoritarian leaders.
This is all part of the diplomatic game, and it’s nothing new. Russia and
China are unlikely to change anytime soon. And, for some issues, like
the threat that a given country will defect to a Chinese or Russian
sponsor while doubling down on authoritarian rule, there are no dip-
lomatic panaceas. But the West can do more.

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•… For example, NGOs can help ensure that they are not derailed by
fake GONGO reports, by making it easier to track and compare fund-
ing sources for all legitimate NGOs operating around the world.
Once financial transparency is universally declared and easily search-
able, it would be easy to see when NGOs that claim to be independent
are actually being funded by the government, eager to obscure their
shadowy financial backers. Journalistic standards should insist on iden-
tifying GONGOs correctly whenever they are cited in news reports.
Furthermore, the ten principles outlined in previous chapters are
crucial to limiting the influence of China and Russia on the global
stage. In particular, democracies banding together to form a League
of Democracies would further isolate Beijing and Moscow and make
the allure of China’s or Russia’s orbits comparatively less appealing.
Even with those improvements, however, Russia and China are not
going anywhere. Neither is likely to willingly embrace democracy at
home anytime soon; each is too powerful to be pressured into political
liberalization in the near future. But their influence must be better
contained around the globe, as the West can ill afford to allow criti-
cally important geopolitical regions to become simple puppets of
Chinese and Russian foreign policy. Without better coordination
against the bear and the dragon, democracy, from Latin America to
Sub-Saharan Africa, from Belarus to Thailand, will continue to be
devoured or scorched.

212
CONCLUSION
THE RESURGENCE OF DEMOCRACY

Global democracy is in decline. As a result, the world is becoming less


stable, less prosperous, and vastly more dangerous.
â•… The West has always been, and continues to be, the best possible
hope for promoting democracy around the world. The West has expen�
ded money, political capital, and even blood to defend democracy and
give a voice to the voiceless. It has often been tremendously successful.
â•… Since 2006, though, the West has failed to help advance democracy
beyond its high water mark. Too often, Western foreign policy has
encouraged authoritarianism, acting as an accomplice to despots rather
than their adversary. Western governments have aided and abetted
friendly autocratic governments even as they have stripped away demo-
cratic elements, abused human rights, crushed dissent, and cracked
down on those that have a simple demand: to have a say in decisions
that affect their lives greatly.
â•… Worse, this trend is set to continue, because investing in democracy
has fallen increasingly out of fashion in Western capitals, from Berlin to
Washington. With failed transitions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and
Ukraine all looming large, Western elites have been tempted by previ-
ously heretical thoughts. Why bother promoting democracy? Is it really
worth it? Those questions, which used to be whispered in muffled blas-
phemous tones in Western capitals, are now openly debated. There are
more and more people in the Western establishment who prize stability
above freedom, at least when it comes to how they believe their gov-

213
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
ernments should interact with the rest of the world. That sentiment was
on stunningly blunt display during the 2016 American presidential
campaign, as candidates lined up to sing the praises of monarchs like
King Abdullah II of Jordan and other friendly despots around the world.
Donald Trump even had nice things to say about Russia’s despotic thug,
Vladimir Putin. Such praise would have been unthinkable from a lead-
ing American presidential contender even just a few years ago.
â•… Those who have lost their appetite for democracy promotion tend
to fall into one of two camps. In the first camp, democracy promotion
is seen as a needlessly moral consideration that is thoroughly out of
place in the cutthroat landscape of international politics. In this view,
foreign democracy does not matter. Democracy promotion is a waste
of money, energy, and political capital. Countries should matter to the
West only insofar as they work with us rather than against us in advanc-
ing Western strategic agendas. Unfortunately, the more that approach
is used, the less “soft power” the West will have to get its way in global
politics without using force. Over time, the West will find fewer and
fewer countries willing to work collaboratively, as Western govern-
ments begin to be seen as even more duplicitous and callously self-
interested actors in global diplomacy. Nonetheless, the voices of these
Henry Kissinger disciples are rising, gaining steady influence in London,
Paris, Brussels and Washington.
â•… In the second camp are those who believe in the value of democracy
promotion, but find it worthwhile only if it aligns with the short-term
geostrategic interests of Western governments. When it does not, it
should fall by the wayside, as other overriding interests are deemed
more important. This is the current approach. It has led us to a pro-
longed period of democratic stagnation and decline, giving despots the
upper hand. Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama mistakenly
argued that the world was nearing “The End of History,” wherein
democracy would ultimately supplant despotism everywhere as the
ideological dominance of democracy became uncontested. Instead,
because of the West’s halfhearted approach to democracy promotion,
despots have a growing number of defenders, and the West is far too
often on the wrong side of “history.”
â•… There is a third way forward: promote democracy consistently and
more intelligently. As I’ve outlined, democracy promotion is complex,

214
CONCLUSION
fraught with danger, and even potentially catastrophic if bungled. There
are risks. But it would be riskier to double down on an approach that
has failed to deliver results or, worse, to abandon democracy promo-
tion altogether. Critics of democracy promotion justify their opposi-
tion to consistent democracy promotion with a variety of arguments.
I’ll admit that democracy is no panacea; it is a system that presents new
opportunities that are rarely present in authoritarian states, but it is no
guarantee of prosperity in itself. Yet, for each argument that suggests
Western democracy promotion should be relegated to the history
books, the logic is alluring, but flawed.
â•… First, authoritarian regimes are sometimes portrayed as govern-
ments that are needed to deliver results, giving people the prosperity
they want without involving citizens in decisions over how to get it.
Proponents of this view point to several outliers, like Singapore,
Rwanda, and even China, to showcase systems where a small, unac-
countable group is able to govern in the interests of the many. This is
not government of the people, or by the people, the argument goes,
but it is for the people.
â•… This is the myth of benign dictatorship. It is frequently put forth as
an alternative model, but it is just a myth. The countries put on a ped-
estal to elevate this myth are major outliers, standing out from a much
uglier field. Every dictatorship has a period where it seems benign,
until it isn’t. By then, it’s too late. By definition, you can’t fire despots,
and as this book makes clear, lots of people are trying very hard to do
so and failing. Ultimately, Winston Churchill’s statement has stood the
test of time and rings as true today as it did when he spoke it just after
World War II. Democracy is the worst form of government in so many
€

maddening, frustrating ways, except for all those other forms that have
been tried.
â•… For anyone who truly believes that Churchill was and is wrong, I
would urge you to conduct a simple thought experiment. Imagine that
before you are born, you can choose to be born in an authoritarian
state or a democratic one.You don’t know which country it will be—
you only know the government type. There are some grim democracies
and a few better performing authoritarian regimes. But can you hon-
estly say you’d roll the dice and pick authoritarianism if you had to
choose between the two?

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THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
â•…Second, even if you would take the gamble, there’s another prob-
lem. “Good” authoritarian states would be better as democracies.
China, Singapore, and to a lesser extent Rwanda, all have strongly
functioning political institutions. They exploit comparatively high levels
of state capacity to get things done. As a result, there is no reason to
believe that they could not do the same, only better, if they incorpo-
rated the strengths of democracy into their regimes. Admittedly, there
are innate strengths of authoritarian rule, like rapid response during
crises and the opportunity for long-term planning, but those advan-
tages are deeply outweighed by the rewards of democracy. Rwandans
would be better served if they were able to openly debate state poli-
cies, blocking the good ones, and harnessing the country’s creativity to
produce better ideas. It’s similarly unclear why a carefully managed
transition to democracy in countries like China or Singapore would be
catastrophic rather than fruitful. The liberalization of China’s economy
was, after all, seen as a major risk that could invite unwanted volatility.
Then it happened, and everything got better rather than worse. A simi-
lar pattern could emerge in other high-performing authoritarian states
as they liberalize politically and become more democratic. This is par-
ticularly true if change happens without a dramatic revolution that
takes a wrecking ball to the institutions and individuals of the old
regime, but instead builds upon existing strengths.
â•… However, there is some truth to the fact that transitions are hazard-
ous. This anticipates the third critique commonly leveled against
democracy promotion. Some argue that the dangers of transition are
so great that the West should therefore deter rather than invite it. Such
status quo diplomacy is flawed for two reasons. First, transitions may
happen anyway, and when they do, the new regime is far less likely to
be friendly to the fallen despot’s former allies (if you don’t believe me,
see Iran’s relations with the United States since 1979). This is precisely
why a democratic Saudi Arabia could be so dangerous to Western inter-
ests after decades of support for the oppressive ruling family. It is also
precisely why the West would be better weaning itself off that relation-
ship sooner rather than later.
â•… Second, transitions may invite short-term instability but successful
transitions ensure long-term stability. This is true for both dictatorships
and counterfeit democracies that could upgrade to the real thing.

216
CONCLUSION
Significant swaths of the population often have a strong propensity for
violent opposition to the regime under the leadership of both despots
and counterfeit democrats. To deal with those threats and stave off
violence, dictators are better equipped: they can use an iron fist to
crush insurrection before it breaks out into the open. Counterfeit
democrats have the worst of both worlds: plenty of opposition but less
of an ability to repress it before it becomes violent. For this reason,
significant swaths of research—including my doctorate—have shown
that countries “in the middle” are most prone to civil wars and other
forms of political violence.
â•… This is, however, not an endorsement of the pragmatic value of iron
fists to crush violence. Iron rusts. When that happens, the ensuing tran-
sition is far likelier to be messy and exceptionally violent. The risk of
regime collapse exploding into a global or regional conflagration can
be much greater in the wake of longstanding authoritarianism. Syria’s
current quagmire tragically showcases this point. As a result, the only
genuine form of stability comes with consolidated democracy, which
tends to have fewer people who oppose the regime’s survival but also
a built-in mechanism to incorporate, rather than silence, dissent.
â•… Finally, Fareed Zakaria, who has an admittedly brilliant mind for this
topic, has advanced the idea that countries should only get into the
driver’s seat of democracy once they have developed sufficiently.1 In
this patronizing view, poor, weakly institutionalized countries are like
young children and should not be allowed to take care of themselves. I
view it differently. Poor countries are like young drivers just taking the
wheel for the first time. Yes, they are statistically more likely to crash
than their richer counterparts.2 Perhaps they will be more likely to
have a safe initial journey if they start driving when they are 30 years
old instead. But you have to learn by doing. Delaying democratization
may have some marginal benefits in a select few cases, but using those
cases to dictate the general rule would be a mistake, akin to letting a
few democratic car crashes ruin everyone else’s opportunity for
self-governance.
â•… Additionally, as Robert Kagan correctly pointed out in his critique
of Zakaria’s argument, “Those countries that manage to escape poverty
are just as likely to be democratic throughout their period of economic
growth (Japan, Ireland) as they are to be dictatorial (Singapore,

217
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
Malaysia) or to undergo transition from dictatorship to democracy
(Portugal, Spain, South Korea).”3 In other words, to get rich, there’s
not necessarily an advantage to being authoritarian, so it makes sense
to at least try and be democratic. Moreover, Zakaria’s logic is most
alluring because today’s transitions are held to an absurdly short time
frame before they are considered failures. Assessing the Arab Spring
five years on in 2016 is akin to assessing Japan’s democracy in 1950.
Early setbacks do not doom democracy’s long-term trajectory.
â•… Finally, call me sentimental, but I can’t stomach the idea that people
in poor countries should suffer the double indignity of poverty coupled
with having no voice involved in changing their lives for the better.
Zakaria is correct to point out the perils of premature and overzealous
transitions. These are legitimate concerns that cannot easily be dis-
missed. But he is wrong to suggest that this means we should accept
authoritarianism as a necessary and perhaps even desirable feature of
impoverished nations in the meantime.
â•… Similarly, there is a surprisingly pervasive (and borderline racist)
view that democracy is neither compatible with Asian values nor with
Islam. It is absurd. Democracy is not a one-size-fits-all form of govern-
ment. That is precisely its strength. To reiterate President Obama’s
words in Cairo back in 2009:
all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have
a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal
administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal
from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.
â•… Muslims don’t like corrupt and unresponsive governments any more
than Christian Belarusians, and Confucianism doesn’t mean that des-
potic governments should be free from citizen accountability.
Adaptations of other democratic prototypes may need to be adapted to
fit the local context, but Taiwan, Japan, and to a slightly lesser extent
the Philippines make clear that Asians value democracy. Myanmar’s
fledgling democratic experiment after decades of military rule could
soon be added to that list. While Indonesia has slid closer to authori-
tarianism recently, it gives hope to the notion of Muslim democracy.
Tunisia has added to it too, the first and most promising model for Arab
Muslim democracy. If they continue to consolidate, such countries
should be cherished and asked to join in democracy promotion else-

218
CONCLUSION
where, as paradigmatic examples of democracy’s intrinsic ability to
adapt to local context. Fundamentally, it’s a mistake to measure demo-
cratic potential against the status quo landscape. Seeing the democratic
wasteland that largely constitutes the Middle East and inferring that it
could never be democratic is like seeing Europe in the Dark Ages and
assuming it would always be impoverished and backward. Successful
democracy requires people to make the concept their own; it might
take a while, but it can be done.
â•… Beyond Zakaria’s influential critique, many opposed to democracy
promotion suggest that it is an agenda advanced by ideologues with little
reference to the pragmatism that pervades most people’s daily existence.
They are correct to point out that debates can become too theoretical.
The average person certainly cares more about the struggles of daily life
than about abstract concerns of governance. After all, who cares if your
local governor was elected if you don’t have a job? To an extent, that’s a
valid and underappreciated criticism of the scholarly debate over democ-
racy. Foreign policy discussions about democracy promotion can become
the intellectual plaything of political elites and academics. It’s easy to let
ideology or a fetishization of democracy overshadow the pragmatism that
pervades most people’s daily existence.
â•… Nonetheless, the conclusion that we should not promote democracy
is incorrect. Democracy’s core attributes do affect daily life consider-
ably. The aspirations of billions of people hinge upon this seemingly
academic debate. Democracy, in its essence, has fundamental advan-
tages over dictatorship. Consolidated democracies spawn more eco-
nomic opportunity, enjoy better physical security, and are bastions of
greater justice. They have less corruption, which is a scourge that low-
ers growth and takes money out of the pockets of hundreds of millions
daily. They provide a marketplace of ideas which helps weed out bad
ideas and gives rise to good ones. If bad ideas squeak through the sys-
tem or the electorate swings too far one way at any given moment,
there are built-in ways to correct those self-inflicted wounds without
them becoming fatal. Importantly, they also have a mechanism to
resolve political disputes without violence. Yes, democracies don’t
always perform up to their potential. These positive attributes are not
uniformly apt for all democratic states. Some perform better than oth-
ers; as I said in Chapter 1, not everyone can be Norway. But the poten-

219
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
tial of democracies to deliver prosperity is far greater than that of even
the most well-managed and seemingly benign authoritarian states. To
follow the alternative logic would require believing that the West
should not promote democracy anywhere, simply because not all coun-
tries will consolidate and democratize as quickly or as well as the most
exemplary existing democracies did.
â•… Finally, in these debates, we need to stop pretending that counterfeit
democracies are democracies at all. We’re often led to believe that
developing nations only have a choice between mimicking high-per-
forming strongmen, as in Rwanda or Singapore, and becoming a
divided and turbulent democracy such as Kenya. I have lost count of
how many times I have heard this argument. There’s just one major
problem: Kenya is not a democracy, even though it is sometimes con-
sidered one. In an influential index used by political scientists to mea-
sure democracy, Kenya ranked above Belgium in 2014.4 Any Kenya
specialist will be the first to laugh at the notion that Kenya is more
democratic than Belgium.
â•… Getting these labels correct is crucial. Some may (perhaps rightly)
disagree with my characterization of specific countries that I’ve dis-
cussed. Disagreement is important, so long as a consensus is then
forged that insists on a high bar. If people view Kenya or Pakistan as
deserving the same label as Japan and Sweden or even India, then the
value of the term democracy is watered down. The people of Equatorial
Guinea may view democracy less favorably if they associate the term
with Madagascar or Guyana rather than Chile, Denmark, or Mauritius.
Those latter three nations are spread across three regions. They have
disparate wealth. Each has a different form of democracy. Yet all are
worthy of the label. Proponents of democracy must therefore be the
greatest defenders of the term and set a high bar for it. The words we
use matter.
â•… In this book, I have outlined a way forward to make sure that more
countries are worthy of that precious label: democracy. The West needs
to learn from its mistakes in order to unleash a resurgence of democ-
racy and end the current trend. The principles above offer a blueprint
for how to get started. Think long-term. Don’t try to impose democ-
racy with wars launched from the West. Coordinate diplomacy at the
highest diplomatic echelons with democracy promotion efforts on the

220
CONCLUSION
ground. Let other countries hold elections free from Western manipu-
lation. Give dictators a way out to pave the way for transitions. Include
the old regime in transitions. Target democracy promotion funding to
where it is most likely to work. Use economic carrots and multilateral
coordination to encourage democratization while shrinking the options
available to despots. Use digital technology to expose authoritarian
abuses rather than letting it be used as a weapon against democratic
reformers. And finally, lead by example, so that the West looks like a
much more alluring model to follow than China and Russia.
â•… Even though I am realistic that, at best, a few of these principles
could slowly trickle into Western foreign policy, I am nonetheless
optimistic for the future of global democracy. In my quest to under-
stand why democracy is in decline globally and what can be done to
fix it, I traveled 102,822 miles to completely disparate parts of the
planet. Some of the countries I lived in could hardly be more differ-
ent. They nonetheless shared one unifying theme: in every corner of
the world, there are people out there fighting hard on the frontlines
of a global battle for democracy. Throughout my travels, I found the
depressingly cynical machinations of dictators and despots matched at
every twist and turn by the less powerful but equally determined
democratic reformers. Whether it’s politicians like Said Ferjani in
Tunisia who are willing to put the nation before personal vengeance,
journalists like Pravit Rojanaphruk in Thailand who are willing to
speak truth to power even after “attitude adjustment”, or the thou-
sands of students in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement who risk
everything for their dream of political freedoms, democracy has its
advocates, its fighters, and its defenders everywhere. They are buried
more deeply in some places than others, but they can always be found
if you look closely enough (or, as necessary under some authoritarian
regimes, whisper quietly enough).
â•… Following a decade and a half of stunning victories after the end of
the Cold War, the advance of democracy has stalled and slipped back-
ward. Despots who were on their heels have now dug themselves in,
finding an accomplice in the West, which is grudgingly facilitating their
authoritarian crimes. Their victims are the billions of people who rou-
tinely have their life ambitions held back by a government that mutes
their voice and rules them without any meaningful choice. However,

221
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
as long as the West acts as the despot’s accomplice rather than its adver-
sary, genuine global stability, strong economic growth, and justice will
also be victims of these unfortunate crimes. Western governments
need to change their strategy, holding dictators, despots, and counter-
feit democrats accountable rather than rushing to their defense.
â•… In my hundreds of interviews, it started to seem worryingly routine
to hear horror stories of abuse and torture, of beatings and brutality.
In places like Madagascar, where the average person lives on just over
$1 per day, I simply got used to seeing crippling poverty when I wasn’t
interviewing politicians in their opulent homes or offices. I began to
recognize that familiar pause in conversation, the hesitation of people’s
voices breaking as they told me about being tortured. It became nor-
mal to speak to both sides, sometimes in the same day, despots and
democrats. The way I view these experiences, however, hinges so much
on how I see each nation’s prospects for democracy. In Belarus, sitting
across from Mikolai Statkevich who had just been released from more
than four years of prison and psychological torture and who was beaten
nearly to death for the “crime” of calling for democracy, I could only
feel a deep sadness. Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator who ordered
Statkevich’s beating, abduction and jailing by thugs, was going to get
away with it. The West may not be guilty of oppressing Statkevich, but
by becoming friendlier with Belarus in 2016 after a long and distinct
lack of reform, shortsighted Western governments are driving
Lukashenko’s getaway car. Statkevich will never get those four and a
half years of his life back. His body may never fully heal. And still,
Lukashenko will remain in power, because he has powerful friends and
reluctantly forgiving suitors, now including Western governments. It’s
hard to feel optimistic after those types of meetings.
â•… I felt the same way with one the kindest people I met on my travels,
one of Madagascar’s best journalists, Alain Iloniaina. When I arrived on
the island for the first time in 2012 without a single contact, Alain
generously opened up his network to me within ten minutes of meet-
ing me, allowing me to better understand the plight of his country. In
2013, however, the editor of Alain’s newspaper decided to run for
president. He required all of his journalists to support him in their
writings. Alain refused out of principle and lost his job, a particularly
courageous decision given the fact that he had young children at the

222
CONCLUSION
time and money was tight. Over breakfast in December 2013, while I
was serving as an election monitor, I told Alain how much I admired
his decision. But I also told him, sadly, that nobody in the West would
care. I was right. Nobody in the media covered his resignation. In spite
of his last journalistic stand, Madagascar is still a terribly run country
that too many in the West falsely believe is a democracy. Like Belarus,
it is unlikely to change much anytime soon. But the courage embodied
in Alain’s seemingly small act can add up to something bigger.
â•… Similarly, I met again with Pravit, the brave Thai journalist who has
been repeatedly detained by the ruling junta, for a second time in
March of 2016. “I feel 50 per cent less optimistic than when we last
€

spoke,” he told me in Bangkok. “The new draft constitution means that


the junta is not going anywhere probably for at least five years and
America is helping them by acting completely Janus-faced. They say
one thing but act a different way because they will not let China steal
Thailand away from them.” And yet, Pravit himself represents a glim-
mer of hope. In spite of repeated “attitude adjustment,” his attitude is
surprisingly resilient and his voice has proved stubbornly difficult to
silence. Even though his most recent detention was appalling, as he was
tossed into a scorching hot “4 meter by 4 meter cell, with no air con-
ditioning,” Pravit has a sense of humor about his continued resistance.
“They tried to intimidate me by telling me that there is a soldier who
has the full-time job of monitoring my Facebook posts and my tweets,”
he said with a smirk. “Poor guy! A full-time job, just for me! At least I
hope I am teaching him some English!” He paused to laugh. “If they
want to waste their time with me and go after other people for posting
shitty memes on the Internet, they can go right ahead.”
â•… Our conversation was filled with quips like these and laughter
throughout, albeit some pretty dark humor, but Pravit’s devotion to his
principles is serious. “There’s a saying in Thai we have, that eventually
a pig no longer fears being slaughtered. Well, I’m now that pig, and I’m
not going anywhere, and I’m not going to stop speaking up either. But
for now, I’m trapped—along with all Thai people—in juntaland.”
People like Pravit deserve more Western support. “I’m pinning my
hopes on the Scandinavian countries, maybe the Germans if we are
lucky. But the EU as a bloc just wants to advance its business interests,
and the US has too much to lose here in geopolitics to really push for

223
THE DESPOT’S ACCOMPLICE
democracy.” Thailand’s short-term prospects are dim partly because the
West is only thinking short-term too. But people like Pravit make me
hopeful that Thailand’s long-term trajectory can change.
â•… There are also success stories, albeit fewer than in the 1990s. Tunisian
torture victims provide an unlikely source of hope, but that’s what
shone through as they told me about their optimistic vision for a demo-
cratic future. I’ll never forget Said Ferjani’s booming laugh overshad-
owing the winces from daily bodily pain, the lingering specter of
unspeakable suffering at the hands of a Western-supported despot.
Ferjani was in exile for decades; now he’s part of a new generation of
reformers in power, doing everything they can to avoid the mistakes of
Tunisia’s dark past.
â•… But most of all, perhaps, I remember the joviality of Lieutenant
Colonel Mohammed Ahmed, the military officer who was falsely
accused of a coup plot, tortured, and stripped of his rank, uniform, and
pension. For two decades, Lt Col Ahmed languished, hoping for noth-
ing more than to have his suffering acknowledged, to be granted a
formal apology, and to be given the right to wear his uniform again. By
2010, he had long since given up hope. Then, in the span of a few
weeks, his torturer was toppled and everything changed. In June 2014,
he sent me a jubilant e-mail:
I am delighted to tell you some great news. We have achieved an excep-
tional tour de force: the Constituent National Assembly has adopted a law
of rehabilitation and recognition of the rights of us victims. Our careers
will be reinstated, with three ranks added on to our previous ranks, and
we will be given full pensions at that level.
â•… This small victory would have been unthinkable without Tunisia’s
transition to democracy.
â•… There are thousands of similarly unthinkable victories out there,
small and large. They have been forged by democratic change, like
Tunisia’s, that often seemed laughably improbable—until it happened.
Authoritarian stability that seems ironclad is frequently a mirage that
leaves the West looking foolish in an unforgiving geopolitical desert.Yet
Western policy is all too often based on that shimmering mirage. If you
had predicted Tunisia’s transition in 2010, or Syria’s bloody spiral into
tragic civil war at the same time, politicians, scholars, foreign policy
analysts, and journalists would have dismissed you as a crackpot.

224
CONCLUSION
Political risk maps at the time showed Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, and Bahrain
as some of the safest bets out there for stability. Needless to say, the
maps the following year looked different.
â•… Alternatively, imagine stepping into Riga’s KGB Corner House in
1989 and telling prisoners that they are standing in a soon-to-be
museum, a place where tourists would make donations in the same
currency that people use on the Champs-Élysées, and that Riga will
soon be one of Europe’s “culture capitals.” Or imagine whispering
about the future of democracy under the tyranny of the American-
backed Chilean despot Augusto Pinochet in the late 1980s, only to
watch genuine democracy take root. Today, in Myanmar, there is a new
dawn for democracy. It may not pan out, just as Tunisia’s fledgling
democracy is no guarantee, but there is, finally, hope—a hope that
used to be unthinkable. In global politics, the terrain can shift quickly.
That means there should always be hope.
â•… In this struggle for democracy, the victims are usually the people
living under despotism, as their leaders have conducted a heist, stealing
their voices and depriving them of meaningful choice. But once the
West acts as an accomplice to these undemocratic crimes across the
globe, we all become victims of the shared costs of authoritarian rule.
Global security, prosperity, and justice have suffered. But, as in Chile,
Tunisia, Latvia, or perhaps Myanmar, that suffering can be alleviated.
Democracy can again be on the march if the West becomes the demo-
crat’s accomplice instead.
â•… Voters in the West have been born into a privileged position pre-
cisely because they have a say in their governments, which happen to
form the most powerful bloc of countries in the world. To democratize
the world, whether out of moral duty or self-interest, Western voters
may demand a change in their government’s interactions with the rest
of the world. The decline of democracy or its prolonged stagnation
does not have to continue. There is a better way. It may not be easy, it
may not always work, and it is fraught with peril. But we have to try.

225
pp. [1–6]

NOTES

INTRODUCTION: ACCESSORY TO AUTHORITARIANISM


1.╇Freedom House (2015). ‘Freedom in the World. Discarding Democracy:
Return to the Iron Fist’, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-
world/freedom-world-2015#.VvziW2R97UQ, last accessed 31 March €

2016. See also Diamond, Larry (2015). ‘Facing up to the Democratic


Recession,’ Journal of Democracy, 26(1), 141–55; and Diamond, Larry
and Marc F. Plattner (2015). Democracy in Decline?, Baltimore, MD:
€

Johns Hopkins University Press.


2.╇Nathan, Andrew (2015). ‘Authoritarian Resurgence: China’s Challenge,’
Journal of Democracy, 26(1), 156–70.
3.╇Scholars have referred to this concept by many names. Fareed Zakaria
popularized ‘illiberal democracy’, which I do not find useful, because
these countries are not democracies. Others have used conceptually
accurate but political science jargon to describe them, including anoc-
racy, competitive authoritarianism, and electoral authoritarianism.
6.╇Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way (2006). ‘Linkage versus Leverage.
Rethinking the International Dimension of Regime Change’, Comparative
Politics, 38(4), 379–400.
7.╇Carothers, Thomas (2003). ‘Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror’,
Foreign Affairs, 82(1), 84–97.
8.╇Diehl, Jackson (2011). ‘Can the U.S. Get on the Right Side in Egypt?’,
€

The Washington Post, 28 January 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/


€

wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/27/AR2011012707456.html, last
accessed 4 March 2016.
€

9.╇World Bank (2013). ‘Madagascar: Measuring the Impact of the Political


Crisis’, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/06/05/
madagascar-measuring-the-impact-of-the-political-crisis, last accessed
16 December 2015.
€

227
pp. [7–12] Notes
10.╇Holland, Jennifer S. (2014). ‘Locusts Eat the Crops Of Madagascar—
€

and Each Other, Too’, National Public Radio, 3 September 2014, €

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2014/09/03/34525
8382/locusts-eat-the-crops-of-madagascar-and-each-other-too, last acces�
sed 17 March 2016.
€

11.╇
Indian Ocean Times (n.d.). ‘Madagascar: 3,572 zebus stolen between
May and April 2014 by the dahalo’, http://en.indian-ocean-times.
com/Madagascar-3–572-zebus-stolen-between-April–and-May–
2014-by-the-dahalo_a3763.html, last accessed 7 January 2016. See also €

Amnesty International (2012). ‘Madagascar Must End Mass Killings


and Investigate Security Forces’, 20 November 2012, https://www. €

amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2012/11/madagascar-must-end-mass-kill-
ings-and-investigate-security-forces/, last accessed 7 January 2016. €

12.╇Ffooks, John (2012). Lawyer and Political Analyst. Personal interview,


14 September 2012, Antananarivo, Madagascar.
€

13.╇
BBC News (2013). ‘Madagascar Election is Free and Fair, Observers
Say’, 27 October 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-2469
€

4421, last accessed 8 January 2016. €

14.╇
The New York Times (2009). ‘Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo’, 4 June €

2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.
text.html?_r=0, last accessed 24 March 2016. €

15.╇
Center for Strategic and International Studies (2015). ‘Military
Spending and Arms Sales in the Gulf’, Washington, DC: CSIS, 28 April €

2015. See also: Blanchard, Christopher (2016). ‘Saudi Arabia: BackÂ�


ground and U.S. Relations’, Congressional Research Service, 22 April
€ €

2016, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33533.pdf, last acces�


sed 19 February 2016.
€

16.╇Kaphle, Anup (2015). ‘13 Times U.S. Presidents and Saudi Kings Have €

Met’, The Washington Post, 27 January 2015, https://www.washington-


€

post.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/01/27/13-times-u-s-presi-
dents-and-saudi-kings-have-met/, last accessed 7 January 2016. €

17.╇US State Department (2011). ‘Saudi Arabia: 2010 Country Reports


on Human Rights Practices’, p.â•–4, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/
hrrpt/2010/, last accessed 7 January 2016. €

18.╇The Telegraph (2010). ‘Indonesian Maid has Lips Cut Off by Employer,’
23 November 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/
€

asia/indonesia/8154287/Indonesian-maid-has-lips-cut-off-by-employer.
html, last accessed 7 January 2016. €

19.╇Donaghy, Rori (2015). ‘Rare Footage Shows Public Beheadings in Saudi


Arabia,’ Middle East Eye, 7 November 2015, http://www.middleeast-
€

eye.net/news/rare-footage-shows-public-beheadings-saudi-ara-
bia-318277846, last accessed 7 January 2016. €

228
notes pp. [12–24]
20.╇Blanchard (2016).
21.╇Shokr, Ahmad (2011). ‘The 18 Days of Tahrir’, Middle East Report, 258,
14–19.
22.╇Snider, Erin and David Faris (2011). ‘The Arab Spring: US Democracy
Promotion in Egypt,’ Middle East Policy, 18(3), 49–62.
23.╇Dumke, David (2006). ‘Congress and the Arab Heavyweights: QuesÂ�
tioning the Saudi and Egyptian Alliances,’ Middle East Policy, 13(3),
88–100.
24.╇The Economist (2013). ‘Coup-lio: America’s Response to Coups,’ 23 July €

2013, http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2013/
07/americas-response-coups, last accessed 21 March 2016.
€

25.╇Hassan, Oz (2015). ‘Undermining the Transatlantic Democracy Agenda?


The Arab Spring and Saudi Arabia’s Counteracting Democracy
Strategy,’ Democratization, 22(3), 479–95.
26.╇Blanchard (2016).
27.╇Burke, Jason (2015). ‘Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi May Receive Second
Set of Lashes on Friday,’ The Guardian, 11 June 2015, http://www.
€

theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/11/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-next-
lashes-friday, last accessed 4 February 2016.
€

28.╇Valentine, Simon Ross (2015). Force and Fanaticism: Wahhabism in Saudi


Arabia and Beyond, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
29.╇Klaas, Brian (2015). ‘Why Tunisia Absolutely, Totally Deserves the
Nobel Peace Prize’, Foreign Policy, 9 October 2015, http://foreign-
€

policy.com/2015/10/09/why-tunisia-absolutely-totally-deserves-the-
nobel-peace-prize/, last accessed 7 February 2016.
€

1.╇A CONCISE BIOGRAPHY OF DEMOCRACY


1.╇Segal, Charles (1998). Aglaia: The Poetry of Alcman, Sappho, Pindar, Bacchylides,
and Corinna, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.
2.╇Carter, D. M. (2013). Sophocles: Ajax, Cambridge: Cambridge University
€ €

Press.
3.╇Plattner, Marc (2010). ‘Populism, Pluralism, and Liberal Democracy,’
Journal of Democracy, 21(1), 81–92.
4.╇World Bank (n.d.) ‘GDP Per Capita (Current US$)’, http://data.world-
bank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD, last accessed 13 March 2016. €

5.╇Russia and China are the exceptions. Of course, many of the other eight
were not always democracies during their development into industrial
powerhouses.
6.╇These are Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates
and Saudi Arabia. However, if countries that are dependent on oil
exports are removed from the equation, then only Singapore graces the
top twenty-five.

229
pp. [24–30] Notes
7.╇Sen, Amartya (2001). Development as Freedom, Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
8.╇Tang, Beibei (2014). ‘Development and Prospects of Deliberative
Democracy in China: The Dimensions of Deliberative Capacity
Building,’ Journal of Chinese Political Science, 19(2), 115–32.
9.╇Morton, Ella (2014), ‘Golden Statues and Mother Bread: The Bizarre
Legacy of Turkmenistan’s Former Dictator’, Slate, 6 February 2014,
€

http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2014/02/06/saparmu-
rat_niyazov_former_president_of_turkmenistan_has_left_quite_the_
legacy.html, last accessed 12 January 2016.
€

10.╇Dadabaev, Timur (2006). ‘Living Conditions, Intra-Societal Trust, and


Public Concerns in Post-Socialist Turkmenistan,’ Central Asia and the
Caucasus, 4(40), 122–32.
11.╇Horák, Slavomír (2005). ‘The Ideology of the Turkmenbashy Regime,’
Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 6(2), 305–19.
12.╇Bodeen, Christopher (2003). ‘Beijing Builds 1,000-bed SARS Hospital
in 8 Days’, Associated Press, 1 May 2003.
€

13.╇Gallie, W. B. (1955). ‘Essentially Contested Concepts’, Proceedings of


€ €

the Aristotelian Society, 56(1), 167–98.


14.╇See Fukuyama, Francis (2015). ‘Why Is Democracy Performing So
Poorly?’, Journal of Democracy, 26(1), 11–20.
15.╇Forsdyke, Sara (2001). ‘Athenian Democratic Ideology and Herodotus’
Histories’, American Journal of Philology, 122(3), 329–58.
16.╇Keane, John (2009). The Life and Death of Democracy, London: Simon
and Schuster.
17.╇Isakhan, Benjamin (2011). ‘What is so “Primitive” About “Primitive
Democracy”? Comparing the Ancient Middle East and Classical
Athens’, in The Secret History of Democracy, London: Palgrave Macmillan,
19–34.
18.╇Keane (2009).
19.╇Historians have enlisted handwriting experts who believe there is evi-
dence that many ballots were written with the same hand, indicating
possible evidence for vote rigging, as Ajax claimed in the vote over
Achilles’ armor.
20.╇Brickhouse, Thomas and Nicholas Smith (1990). Socrates on Trial,
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
21.╇Of course, Socrates probably never would have gained prominence,
or would have been killed far sooner, under a tyranny.
22.╇Price, Melissa (2016). Member of Parliament from Durack District,
Western Australia. Telephone interview, 3 March 2016.
€

23.╇Nunavut district in Canada, with 31,000 electors spread over 787,000


square miles, is the largest district in the world. It is larger than
Mexico, and is nearly nine times the size of the United Kingdom. The

230
notes pp. [30–35]
northernmost city, Alert, is just 500 miles from the North Pole,
roughly the distance that separates London from Copenhagen.
24.╇Keane (2009).
25.╇Henry the Impotent was not impotent when it came to his second
wife, Joan of Portugal, who was his first cousin. They had a daughter
together. Bermudo the Gouty was more accurately named.
26.╇See Villadangos, Esther Seijas (2015). ‘The Decreta of Leon (Spain) of
1188 as the Birthplace of Parliamentarism: An Historical Review from
a Time of Crisis’, UCD Working Papers in Law, Criminology & Socio-
Legal Studies Research Paper No.â•–08/2015.
27.╇Cole, Peter (n.d.). ‘King Charls, His Speech, Made Upon the Scaffold
at Whitehall-Gate Immediately Before His Execution On Tuesday the
30th of Jan. 1648 With a Relation of the Maner of His Going to
Execution,’ available from Project Canterbury, http://anglicanhistory.
org/charles/charles1.html, last accessed 18 January 2016.
€

28.╇Keane (2009).
29.╇Conniff, James (1980). ‘The Enlightenment and American Political
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1.╇Ghasimi, Reza (2011). ‘Iran’s Oil Nationalization and Mossadegh’s
Involvement with the World Bank’, The Middle East Journal, 65(3),
442–56.
2.╇There has never been firm evidence that, as Washington was led to
believe, Mossadegh was forging close ties with Iran’s communist-lean-
ing Tudeh Party.
3.╇For an extremely rich and meticulously researched account of Opera�
tion Ajax, see All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer.
4.╇Kinzer, Stephen (2003). All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the
Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons.
€

5.╇Ibid. See also Roberts, Mervyn (2012). ‘Analysis of Radio Propaganda


in the 1953 Iran Coup’, Iranian Studies, 45(6), 759–77.
6.╇Kinzer (2003).
7.╇Ibid. See also Gasiorowski, Mark and Malcolm Byrne (2004). Mohammad
Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University
Press.
8.╇Kinzer (2003).
9.╇Riley, Morris (1999). Philby: The Hidden Years. London: Janus.
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itée. Paris: Karthala, 23.
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Affairs, 93(4), 14–24.
12.╇Devlin, Larry (2008). Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a
Hot Zone. New York: PublicAffairs.
13.╇Ibid.
14.╇Martin, Guy (2005). ‘Conflict in the Congo: Historical and Regional
Perspectives’, African Studies Review, 48(1), 127–37. See also: Gerard,
Emmanuel and Bruce Kuklick (2015). Death in the Congo: Murdering
Patrice Lumumba, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
15.╇Barr, Burlin (2011). ‘Raoul Peck’s “Lumumba” and “Lumumba: La
Mort du Prophète”: On Cultural Amnesia and Historical Erasure’,
African Studies Review, 54(1), 85–116.
16.╇de Witte, Lude (2001). The Assassination of Lumumba, London: Verso.
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20.╇The White House (1970). ‘Kissinger, Memorandum for the President,

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26.╇Top of Form Kornbluh, Peter (2003). The Pinochet File: A Declassified


Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. New York: New Press.Bottom of
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Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
28.╇Associated Press, ‘US Secretly Created “Cuban Twitter” to Stir Unrest
and Undermine Government’, The Guardian, 3 April 2014, http://
€

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3.╇TUNNEL VISION
1.╇Sharif returned to power in 2013; at the time of writing, he is the cur-
rent prime minister of Pakistan.
2.╇
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3.╇Weiner, Tim (1999). ‘Countdown to Pakistan’s Coup: A Duel of Nerves


in the Air’, The New York Times, 17 October 1999, http://www.nytimes.
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Asian Survey, 40(1), 208–18.
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233
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6.╇Carothers, Thomas (2003). ‘Promoting Democracy and Fighting


Terror’, Foreign Affairs, 82(1), 84–97.
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Millions Funding the ISI Spy Agency, Despite Fears of Corruption. But
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8.╇Blum, John (2004). ‘History Starts Today’, The Yale Review, 92(4),
128–39.
9.╇Hersh, Seymour (2015). ‘The Killing of Osama Bin Laden’, London
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Detail in Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story that Rings True,’ New York
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10.╇Olson, Mancur (1993). ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development’,


American Political Science Review, 87(3), 567–76.
11.╇Democratic leaders obviously care about their legacies, but the short-
term bias can overshadow long-term projects even for those who take
posterity’s image of them seriously.
12.╇This imperative partly accounts for why the invasion of Iraq was dis-
ingenuously pitched to the public as an attack on both al-Qaeda and
tyranny.
13.╇Akbar Zaidi, S. (2011). ‘Who Benefits from U.S. Aid to Pakistan?’
€ €

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14.╇Dutta, Nabamita, Peter T. Leeson, and Claudia R. Williamson (2013).


€ €

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Profit International Development Contracting and the Military
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17.╇Bush, Sarah Sunn (2015). The Taming of Democracy Assistance, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
18.╇As I make clear in Chapter 5, however, even countries like Madagascar
do not face substantial pressure to create meaningful democratic

234
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reforms; they simply have to clear a laughably low bar for the mini-
mum acceptable level of ‘democracy’.
19.╇Ibid.
20.╇Ibid.
21.╇BBC News (2015). ‘Russia’s Putin Signs Law Against “Undesirable”
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22.╇Bennett, Brian (2011). The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus under


Lukashenko, London: Hurst & Co.
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interview, 17 December 2015, Minsk, Belarus.
€

24.╇Senior Belarusian policy analyst and former diplomat, anonymous here


at his request. Personal interview, 18 December 2015, Minsk, Belarus.
€

25.╇Council of Europe (2009). ‘Manipulation of the Final Outcome of the


2006 Presidential Election in Belarus’, Strasbourg: Council of Europe,
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Personal interview, 16 December 2015, Minsk, Belarus.
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29.╇Marples, David (2009). ‘Outpost of Tyranny? The Failure of DemoÂ�


cratization in Belarus’, Democratization, 16(4), 756–76.
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€

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36.╇Rankin, Jennifer (2016). ‘EU Lifts Most Sanctions against Belarus


Despite Human Rights Concerns,’ The Guardian, 15 February 2016, €

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€

4.╇THE “SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE”


1.╇Reuters (2009). ‘U.S. Helicopter Accidentally Dumps Afghan Ballot
€

Boxes’, 26 August 2009, http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-afghani-


€

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24 February 2016.
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2.╇Gall, Carlotta (2009). ‘Growing Accounts of Fraud Cloud Afghan


Election’, The New York Times, 30 August 2009, http://www.nytimes.
€

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2016.
3.╇Crilly, Rob (2014). ‘Afghan Election Official Stands Aside to Defuse
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4.╇Pfiffner, James (2010). ‘US Blunders in Iraq: De-Baathification and


Disbanding the Army,’ Intelligence and National Security, 25(1), 76–85.
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€

6.╇Bowen, Stuart W. (2013). ‘Learning from Iraq: Final Report from


€

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, March 2013’, avail-


able from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, http://www.
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7.╇Withnall, Adam (2015). ‘Isis’s War on Democracy: Militants Execute


300 Civil Servants from Iraqi Electoral Commission,’ The Independent,
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236
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12.╇Weiner, Juli. ‘More Horrendously Creepy Details About Qaddafi’s
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York: Council on Foreign Relations, 24 June 2011, http://blogs.cfr.
€

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€

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€

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€

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5.╇THE CURSE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS


1.╇For an example of this argument, see Lindberg, Staffan (2009). Demo�
cratization by Elections: A New Mode of Transition, Baltimore, MD: Johns
Hopkins University Press.
2.╇Center for Systemic Peace (n.d.). ‘Polity IV Data: Polity-Case Format,
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3.╇Higgins, Andrew (2010). ‘Pricey Real Estate Deals in Dubai Raise
Questions about Azerbaijan’s President’, The Washington Post, 5 March €

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4.╇Fisher, Max (2013). ‘Oops: Azerbaijan Released Election Results Before


Voting Had Even Started’, The Washington Post, 9 October 2013, €

h t t p s : / / w w w. wa s h i n g t o n p o s t . c o m / n ew s / wo r l dv i ew s /
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5.╇Herszenhorn, David (2013). ‘Observers Differ on Fairness of Election


in Azerbaijan’, The New York Times, 10 October 2013, http://www.
€

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6.╇Herszenhorn (2013).
7.╇There have since been further condemnations of the human rights sit-
uation, including a forceful denouncement in August 2015 by PACE,
but these are eclipsed by the high-level diplomacy that tends to place
such concerns lower on the list of geostrategic priorities.
8.╇Haring, Melinda (2013). ‘Reforming the Democracy Bureaucracy’,
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9.╇Klaas, Brian (2015). ‘Bullets over Ballots: How Electoral Exclusion
Increases the Risk of Coups d’État and Civil Wars’, DPhil Dissertation,
University of Oxford.
10.╇Often, election observation reports avoid these over-simplifications,
such as those of the Carter Center, former US president Jimmy
Carter’s NGO (see below). However, the press conferences that are
held in the immediate aftermath of election day nonetheless gravitate
toward this simple thumbs up, thumbs down concept.
11.╇This is a common problem in most elections around the world; the
scholars of the Electoral Integrity Project found that more than two-
thirds of elections in 2015 failed to meet international standards for
campaign financing. Many of these same elections were highly praised
and eagerly endorsed by international diplomats.
12.╇The Carter Center, ‘Legislative and Second Round of Presidential
Elections in Madagascar: Final Report’, December 2013, https://
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13.╇Lough, Richard and Alain Iloniaina (2013). ‘European, African ObserÂ�


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14.╇World Bank, ‘Proportion of Seats Held by Women in National
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€

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Leader Paul Kagame’, The Guardian, 31 December 2010, http://www.
€

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last accessed 21 February 2016.
€

16.╇Birrell, Ian (2014). ‘Darling of the West, Terror to his Opponents:


Meet Rwanda’s New Scourge—Paul Kagame’, The Independent, 4 JanuÂ� €

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17.╇Gettleman, Jeffrey (2013). ‘The Global Elite’s Favorite Strongman’,


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€

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18.╇Ibid.
19.╇Ibid.
20.╇Rever, Judi and Geoffrey York (2014). ‘Assassination in Africa: Inside
the Plots to Kill Rwanda’s Dissidents’, The Globe and Mail, 2 May €

2014, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/secret-record-
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21.╇Kron, Josh and Jeffrey Gettleman (2011). ‘British Police Warn Rwandan
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22.╇Collier, Paul and David Dollar (2004). ‘Development Effectiveness:


What Have We Learnt?’, The Economic Journal, 114(496), 244–71.
23.╇Agence France-Presse, ‘Rwanda Votes Yes to Allow Extra Terms for
Paul Kagame’, Daily Nation, 19 December 2015, http://www.nation.
€

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24.╇The White House (2015). ‘Remarks by President Obama to the People
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6.╇BACKING THE WRONG HORSE
1.╇Mistry, Kaeten (2011). ‘Re-thinking American Intervention in the 1948
Italian Election: Beyond a Success–Failure Dichotomy,’ Modern Italy,
16(2), 179–94.
2.╇Forsythe, David (1992). ‘Democracy, War, and Covert Action’, Journal
of Peace Research, 29(4), 385–95.
3.╇See, for example, Ojha, Hemant (2015). ‘The India-Nepal Crisis’, The
Diplomat, 27 November 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/11/the-
€

india-nepal-crisis/, last accessed 2 April 2016.


€

4.╇Worth, Robert (2009). ‘Foreign Money Seeks to Buy Lebanese Votes’,


The New York Times, 22 April 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/
€

04/23/world/middleeast/23lebanon.html, last accessed 21 February €

2016.
5.╇The White House, ‘President Bush Calls for New Palestinian LeaderÂ�
ship’, 24 June 2002, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/
€

news/releases/2002/06/20020624–3.html, last accessed 24 FebÂ�ruÂ�ary €

2016.
6.╇Corstange, Daniel and Nikolay Marinov (2012). ‘Taking Sides in Other
People’s Elections: the Polarizing Effect of Foreign Intervention’,
American Journal of Political Science, 56(3), 655–70.
7.╇Mark, Clyde (2005). ‘United States Aid to the Palestinians’, ConÂ�
gressional Research Service, 4 March 2005, https://www.fas.org/sgp/
€

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8.╇Weisman, Steven (2006). ‘Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas€

Strength,’ New York Times, 30 January 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/


€

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€

9.╇Sharp, Jeremy and Christopher Blanchard (2006). ‘U.S. Foreign Aid €

to the Palestinians’, Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2006, €

http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/68794.pdf, last accessed


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€

10.╇Wilson, Scott and Glenn Kessler (2006). ‘U.S. Funds Enter Fray in €

Palestinian Elections’, The Washington Post, 22 January 2006, http://


€

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€

11.╇Ibid.
12.╇Ibid.
13.╇Greenberg, Hanan (2006). ‘Baby Hurt in Rocket Attack’, YNet News,
3 February 2006, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-32
€

10491,00.html, last accessed 24 February 2006.


€

14.╇Obviously, the situation in the Gaza Strip was (and is) dire and there
are many volumes written about the conflict more broadly. It is not

240
notes pp. [102–113]
my place here to weigh in on justifications or lack of justification for
rocket fire from Gaza, but rather to highlight that Hamas—which uses
rocket fire against civilian targets—won the elections.
15.╇Weisman (2006).
16.╇Weisman, Steven (2006). ‘In Hamas Victory, U.S. Assumptions UnderÂ�
€

mined’, The New York Times, 29 January 2006, http://www.nytimes.


€

com/2006/01/29/world/africa/29iht-diplo.html?pagewanted=all, last
accessed 24 February 2016.
€

17.╇Oved, Marco Chown (2011). ‘In Côte d’Ivoire, a Model of Successful


Intervention’, The Atlantic, 9 June 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/
€

international/archive/2011/06/in-c-te-divoire-a-model-of-successful-
intervention/240164/, last accessed 26 February 2016.
€

18.╇Human Rights Watch, ‘One Year On, Duékoué Massacre Belies


Ouattara Government’s Promises of Impartial Justice,’ 29 March 2012, €

https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/29/one-year-duekoue-massa-
cre-belies-ouattara-governments-promises-impartial-justice, last acces�
sed 17 February 2016. See also Klaas, Brian and David Landry (2015).
€

‘Votes and Hope in Côte d’Ivoire,’ Foreign Affairs, 22 October 2015,€

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/cote-dlvoire/2015–10–22/
votes-and-hope-c-te-d-ivoire, last accessed 29 July 2016.
€

19.╇Oved (2011).

7.╇GOLDEN HANDCUFFS
1.╇Stockman, Farah and Milton J. Valencia (2011). ‘US Officials Thought
€

a BU Post Might Ease Gbagbo Out’, The Boston Globe, 13 April 2011, €

http://archive.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2011/
04/13/us_officials_thought_a_bu_post_might_ease_gbagbo_out/, last
accessed 2 April 2016.
€

2.╇Goemans, Henk, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Giacomo Chiozza


(2009). ‘Introducing Archigos: A Dataset of Political Leaders,’ Journal
of Peace Research, 46(2), 269–83.
3.╇Holland, Steve and Jonathan Allen (2015). ‘Hillary, Bill Clinton report
total income of $140 million since 2007’, Reuters, 31 July 2015, http://
€

www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-clinton-taxes-idUSKC-
N0Q52IH20150801, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

4.╇Goemans, Skrede Gleditsch and Chiozza (2009).


5.╇Mungai, Christine (2015). ‘He’s All We’ve Ever Known! A New Ranking
for Long-serving African Leaders, Relative to Age of Country Popula�
tion’, Mail & Guardian, 8 September 2015.
€

6.╇Goemans, Skrede Gleditsch and Chiozza (2009). See also Geddes,


Barbara, Joseph Wright, and Erica Frantz (2014). ‘Autocratic Break-Â�

241
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╇down and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set’, Perspectives on Politics,
12(2), 313–31.
7.╇Lentz, Harris (1999). Encyclopedia of Heads of States and Governments:
1900 through 1945. McFarland, 219.
8.╇Girard, Philippe (2005). ‘A Glimmer of Hope: Aristide’s Rise to Power
(1988–1991)’. In Paradise Lost, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 110–
27.
9.╇Girard, Philippe (2002). The Eagle and the Rooster: The 1994 US Invasion
of Haiti, PhD dissertation, Ohio University, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/
rws_etd/document/get/ohiou1035828999/inline, last accessed 21 Jan� €

u�ary 2016.
10.╇Sprague, Jeb (2012). Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti,
New York: NYU Press.
11.╇Ibid., 67.
12.╇Girard, Philippe (2004). Clinton in Haiti: the 1994 US invasion of Haiti.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2.
13.╇Ibid.
14.╇Dowd, Maureen (1994). ‘Unimpeded, Intruder Crashes Plane Into
White House’, The New York Times, 12 September 1994, http://www.
€

nytimes.com/1994/09/13/us/crash-white-house-overview-unim-
peded-intruder-crashes-plane-into-white-house.html?pagewanted=all,
last accessed 22 January 2016.
€

15.╇Girard (2002).
16.╇Freed, Kenneth, ‘U.S. Gave Cedras $1 Million in Exchange for
€

Resignation’, Los Angeles Times, 14 October 1994.


€

17.╇Ballard, John (1998). Upholding Democracy: the United States Military


Campaign in Haiti, 1994–1997. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing
Group, 124.
18.╇Jehl, Douglas (1994). ‘Haiti Generals Regain Access to $79 Million,’
The New York Times, 14 October 1994, http://www.nytimes.com/
€

1994/10/14/world/haiti-generals-regain-access-to-79-million.html,
last accessed 18 January 2016.
€

19.╇Freed (1994).
20.╇This calibration needs to be managed exceptionally carefully so that
it does not become an inducement for despots to rapidly militarize,
as a means of staving off Western involvement.
21.╇BBC News, ‘Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh Ready for ‘Billion-year’ Rule’,
12 December 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-1614
€

8458, last accessed 26 January 2016.


€

22.╇Julien, Maud (2015). ‘DR Congo President Unlikely to Give Up


Power’, BBC News, 23 December 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/
€

world-africa-35072001, last accessed 4 February 2016. €

242
notes pp. [124–137]
8.╇THE UNTHINKABLE OLIVE BRANCH
1.╇Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Ahmed, personal interview, Tunis,
Tunisia, 13 November 2013. See also Klaas, Brian (2013). ‘The Long
€

Shadow of Ben Ali’, Foreign Policy, 17 December 2013.


€

2.╇Shadid, Anthony (2012). ‘Islamists’ Ideas on Democracy and Faith Face


Test in Tunisia’, The New York Times, 17 February 2012, http://www.
€

nytimes.com/2012/02/18/world/africa/tunisia-islamists-test-ideas-
decades-in-the-making.html, last accessed 22 February 2016. €

3.╇Allani, Alaya (2009). ‘The Islamists in Tunisia Between Confrontation


and Participation: 1980–2008’, The Journal of North African Studies,
14(2), 257–72.
4.╇Shahid (2012).
5.╇Klaas, Brian and Marcel Dirsus (2014). ‘The Tunisia Model,’ Foreign
Affairs, 23 October 2014.
€

6.╇Muftah, ‘Excluding the Old Regime: Political Participation in Tunisia,’


5 May 2014, http://muftah.org/excluding-the-old-regime-political-par-
€

ticipation-in-tunisia/#.VwDD5jZ97UQ, last accessed 11 February €

2016.
7.╇Klaas, Brian (2015). ‘Bullets over Ballots: How Electoral Exclusion
Increases the Risk of Coups d’État and Civil Wars,’ DPhil Dissertation,
University of Oxford.
8.╇BBC News (2015). ‘Tunisia’s Secularists and Islamists Form New GovernÂ�
ment’, 5 February 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-
€

31147402, last accessed 18 February 2016.


€

9.╇Klaas, Brian (2016). ‘Tumult in Tunisia’, Foreign Affairs, 31 January 2016, €

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/tunisia/2016–01–31/tumult-
tunisia, last accessed 19 February 2016.
€

9.╇FOOL’S ERRANDS
1.╇Minter, Adam (2009). ‘E-waste: There’s an App for That’, Foreign
Policy, 23 September 2009, http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/09/23/e-
€

waste-theres-an-app-for-that/, last accessed 23 February 2016. €

2.╇
See Bush, Sarah Sunn (2015). The Taming of Democracy Assistance,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3.╇Gandhi, Jennifer (2008). Political Institutions under Dictatorship, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
4.╇USAID Press Office (2014). ‘USAID Awards Afghan Women’s EmpowerÂ�
ment Program’, 16 October 2014, https://www.usaid.gov/afghanistan/
€

news-information/press-releases/usaid-awards-afghan-women%E2%
80%99s-empowerment-program, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

243
pp. [137–140] Notes
5.╇Sopko, John F. (2015). ‘Letter from John F. Sopko to Hon. Alfonso
€ €

Lenhardt’, Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan


Reconstruction, 27 March 2015, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/spe-
€

cial%20projects/SIGAR-15–44-SP.pdf, last accessed 2 March 2016. €

6.╇Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Afghanistan Conference (2014).


‘Keynote Address by H.E. Rula Ghani, First Lady of the Islamic
€

Republic of Afghanistan,’, 23 November 2014, http://www.afghan-


€

womenoslosymposium.org/pop.cfm?FuseAction=Doc&pAction=View
&pDocumentId=60158, last accessed 29 July 2016. €

7.╇World Bank (n.d.). ‘GDP Per Capita, Current US$’, http://data.


worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD, last accessed 2 March €

2016.
8.╇Sopko (2015).
9.╇Human Rights Watch (2016). ‘Uzbekistan: Events in 2015’, https://
www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/uzbekistan, last
accessed 4 April 2016.
€

10.╇Lillis, Joanna (2014). ‘Uzbekistan Students Stage Rare Protest Against


Forced Labour in Cotton Fields,’ The Guardian, 13 November 2014, €

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/13/uzbekistan-stu-
dents-rare-protest-forced-labour-cotton-picking, last accessed 6 March €

2016.
11.╇Bloom, John (2008). ‘Terrifying Ally Against Terror’, The Globe & Mail,
26 July 2008, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/terrify-
€

ing-ally-against-terror/article20385731/, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

12.╇‘Uzbekistan “Unspeakable Abuse” of Political Prisoners’, BBC News,


26 September 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-2936
€

5617, last accessed 15 March 2016. €

13.╇Freedom House (2012). ‘Uzbekistan: 2012 Country Overview’,


https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2012/uzbekistan,
last accessed 15 March 2016.
€

14.╇Liljas, Per (2014). ‘The Uzbek Leader’s Daughter Seems to Have a


Thing for Nationally Owned Artwork’, TIME, 6 January 2014, http:// €

world.time.com/2014/01/06/gulnara-karimova-accused-of-taking-
uzbek-national-treasuresf-stealing-national-treasures/, last accessed
3 April 2016. See also Kutcher, Felix (2015). ‘Uzbekistan Bans Teaching
€

of Political Science’, Eurasia Times, 7 September 2015, http://www.


€

eurasiatimes.org/en/uzbekistan-bans-teaching-of-political-science/, last
accessed 3 April 2016.
€

15.╇Patrucic, Miranda (2015). ‘Uzbekistan: How The President’s Daughter


Controlled The Telecom Industry’, Organized Crime and Corruption
Reporting Project, 21 March 2015, https://www.occrp.org/corrup-
€

tistan/uzbekistan/gulnara_karimova/the-prodigal-daughter/how-the-

244
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presidents-daughter-controlled-the-telecom-industry.php, last accessed
3 April 2016.
€

16.╇Noack, Rick (2014). ‘The Strange Story of Uzbekistan’s “Jailed


Princess”’, The Washington Post, 29 August 2014, https://www.wash-
€

ingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/08/29/the-strange-
story-of-uzbekistans-jailed-princess/, last accessed 3 April 2016.
€

17.╇USAID (n.d.). ‘Uzbekistan: Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance’,


https://www.usaid.gov/uzbekistan/democracy-human-rights-and-gov-
ernance, last accessed 3 April 2016.
€

18.╇This includes a major sale of 300 mine-resistant ambush protected


(MRAP) vehicles to Uzbekistan in January 2015.
19.╇Country director for major international democracy promotion orga-
nization based in the Middle East, anonymous by request. Telephone
interview, 13 January 2016.
€

20.╇Carothers, Thomas (2015). Vice President for Studies, Carnegie


Endowment for International Peace. Telephone interview, 11 November
€

2015.
21.╇USAID (n.d.).
22.╇Todorovic, Djordje, International Republican Institute, and Nicole
Rowsell, National Democratic Institute. Personal interviews, October
2013, Tunis, Tunisia.
23.╇Finkel, Steven, Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, and Mitchell A. Seligson (2007).
€

‘The Effects of US Foreign Assistance on Democracy Building, 1990–


2003’, World Politics, 59(3), 404–39.
24.╇Gyimah-Boadi, Emmanuel (2010). ‘Assessing Democracy Assistance:
Ghana’, Ghana Center for Democratic Development and FRIDE, May 2010,
http://fride.org/download/IP_WMD_Ghana_ENG_jul10.pdf, last
accessed 12 February 2016.
€

25.╇World Bank, ‘GDP Growth (Annual %)’, World Development IndicaÂ�


tors, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG,
last accessed 21 February 2016.
€

26.╇This strategy can backfire, however. More on this in Chapter 13.


27.╇Carothers (2015).

10.╇THE CARROT
1.╇ C ity Paper (2015). ‘The House on the Corner: Riga’s KGB Past’, 31 May €

2015, http://www.citypaper.lv/the_house_on_the_corner__riga___s_
kgb_past/, last accessed 3 April 2016.
€

2.╇Eglitis, Daina (2010). Imagining the Nation: History, Modernity, and


Revolution in Latvia, State College, PA: Penn State Press.
3.╇Presser, Brandon (2014). ‘Secret KGB Torture House Opens Its Doors

245
pp. [149–157] Notes
╇ in Riga’, The Daily Beast, 4 June 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.
€

com/articles/2014/06/04/secret-kgb-torture-house-opens-its-doors-
in-riga.html, last accessed 1 February 2016.
€

4.╇Agence France-Presse (2014). ‘Latvia’s Former KGB Headquarters


Gives Up Its Dark Secrets’, Inquirer.net, 8 August 2014, http://news-
€

info.inquirer.net/627468/latvias-former-kgb-headquarters-gives-up-its-
dark-secrets, last accessed 1 February 2016.
€

5.╇McGuinness, Damian (2015). ‘Latvians Refuse to Lift Lid on KGB


Past’, BBC News, 20 May 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-
€

europe-32788317, last accessed 1 February 2016. €

6.╇All GDP per capita figures from World Bank (n.d.). ‘GDP Per Capita,
Current US$’, World Development Indicators, http://data.worldbank.
org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

7.╇Reuters (2015). ‘“Hello, Dictator!”: Juncker Tries Humor to Defuse


Hungary Row’, 22 May 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-
€

hungary-eu-dictator-idUSKBN0O71RP20150522, last accessed 14 March €

2016.
8.╇World Bank (n.d.).
9.╇Simon, Zoltan (2011). ‘Hungary First to Write a Constitution on iPad,
Lawmaker Says’, Bloomberg News, 4 March 2011, http://www.bloom-
€

berg.com/news/articles/2011–03–04/hungary-first-to-write-a-consti-
tution-on-ipad-lawmaker-says, last accessed 14 March 2016. €

10.╇Kounalakis, Eleni (2015). Madam Ambassador, New York: New Press.


11.╇Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Michael D. Ward (2008). ‘Diffusion €

and the Spread of Democratic Institutions’, In Simmons, Beth A.,


Frank Dobbin and Geoffrey Garrett, eds (2008). The Global Diffusion
of Markets and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 261–
302.
12.╇Kagan, Robert (2008). ‘The Case for a League of Democracies’,
Financial Times, 13 May 2008; Sidoti, Liz (2007). ‘McCain Favors a
€

“League of Democracies”’, The Washington Post, 30 April 2007. €

13.╇European Commission (n.d.). ‘Trade Agreements’, http://ec.europa.


eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/agreements/index_en.htm#_
customs-unions, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

14.╇Lenway, Stefanie Ann (1988). ‘Between War and Commerce: Economic


Sanctions as a Tool of Statecraft’, International Organization, 42(2),
397–426.
15.╇Allen, Susan Hannah, and David J. Lektzian (2013). ‘Economic SancÂ�
€

tions: A Blunt Instrument?,’ Journal of Peace Research, 50(1), 121–35.


16.╇Levy, Phillip (1999). ‘Sanctions on South Africa: What Did They Do?’,
The American Economic Review, 89(2), 415–20.
17.╇Cortright, David and George Lopez (2002). Smart Sanctions: Targeting
Economic Statecraft, New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

246
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18.╇As with Belarus, the EU suddenly lifted most of its sanctions on
Zimbabwe in February 2016.
19.╇Grebe, Jan (2010). ‘And They Are Still Targeting: Assessing the EffecÂ�
tiveÂ�ness of Targeted Sanctions against Zimbabwe’, Africa Spectrum,
45(1), 3–29.
20.╇Afrobarometer (n.d.)., ‘Data, Round 5, Merged Data’, http://www.
afrobarometer.org/data, last accessed 3 April 2016.
€

11.╇THE NEW BATTLEGROUND


1.╇Kaplan, Sarah (2015). ‘A Turkish Court Appointed Five “Lord of the
Rings” Experts to Figure Out Whether this Gollum Meme is Offensive’,
The Washington Post, 2 December 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.
€

com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/12/02/a-turkish-court-appointed-
five-lord-of-the-rings-experts-to-figure-out-whether-this-gollum-meme-
is-offensive/, last accessed 3 April 2016.
€

2.╇Twitter (n.d.). ‘Removal Requests: Turkey’, Twitter Transparency Report,


https://transparency.twitter.com/country/tr, last accessed 3 April €

2016. See also Human Rights Watch (2015). ‘Turkey: End Prosecutions
for Insulting the President,’ 29 April 2015, https://www.hrw.org/
€

news/2015/04/29/turkey-end-prosecutions-insulting-president, last
accessed 29 July 2016.
€

3.╇Molloy, Mark and Raziye Akkoc (2015). ‘Director Peter Jackson Wades
into Turkish Debate over “Evil” Gollum’, The Telegraph, 3 December
€

2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/
12030987/Lord-of-the-Rigns-director-Peter-Jackson-wades-into-Recep-
Tayyip-Erdogan-Gollum-debate.html, last accessed 3 April 2016.
€

4.╇Fukuyama, Francis (1992). The End of History and the Last Man, New
York: Free Press.
5.╇Khan, Urmee (2009). ‘Twitter Should Win Nobel Peace Prize, Says
Former US Security Adviser,’ The Telegraph, 7 July 2009, http://www.
€

telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/5768159/Twitter-should-win-
Nobel-Peace-Prize-says-former-US-security-adviser.html, last accessed
3 April 2016.
€

6.╇Dobson, William J. (2012). The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global
€

Battle for Democracy, New York: Random House.


7.╇Ibid., Chapter 3.
8.╇Interestingly, Afifi was funded directly by the United States government,
through the National Endowment for Democracy. His organization (of
which he was the only employee) received well over $100,000 in fund-
ing between 2008, when he became a fellow of the organization, and
2012, when he advocated violent means to help overthrow Egypt’s dem-
ocratically elected, but not pro-American, president.

247
pp. [164–168] Notes
9.╇Mekay, Emad (2013). ‘US Bankrolled Anti-Morsi Activists’, Al-Jazeera,
10 July 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/07/
€

2013710113522489801.html, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

10.╇Fernquest, Jon (2014). ‘Line Stickers: $7 million Baht Too Much?’,


The Bangkok Post, 17 December 2014.
€

11.╇Sky News (2014). ‘Thai Propaganda Video Slammed For Hitler Image’,
15 December 2014, http://news.sky.com/story/1389483/thai-pro-
€

paganda-video-slammed-for-hitler-image, last accessed 3 April 2016. €

12.╇Pongsudhirak, Thitinan (2014). ‘The Roots of Thailand’s Political


Polarization in Comparative Perspective’, 2014 Annual Conference on
Taiwan Democracy, 17–18 October 2014, http://fsi.stanford.edu/
€

sites/default/files/pongsudhirak.thaipolpolarization-cddrl-17oct2014.
pdf.
13.╇Fuller, Thomas (2015). ‘Thai Man May Go to Prison for Insulting
King’s Dog’, The New York Times, 14 December 2015, http://www.
€

nytimes.com/2015/12/15/world/asia/thailand-lese-majeste-tong-
daeng.html, last accessed 24 February 2016.
€

14.╇Turkson, Nshira (2016). ‘A Social-Media Shutdown in Uganda’s


Presidential Election’, The Atlantic, 18 February 2016. €

15.╇The Washington Times (2009). ‘Editorial: Iran’s Twitter Revolution’,


16 June 2009, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jun/
€

16/irans-twitter-revolution/, last accessed 2 April 2016. €

16.╇Keller, Jared (2010). ‘Evaluating Iran’s Twitter Revolution’, The Atlantic,


18 June 2010, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/
€

2010/06/evaluating-irans-twitter-revolution/58337/, last accessed


19 February 2016.
€

17.╇Weaver, Matthew (2010). ‘Oxfordgirl vs Ahmadinejad: the Twitter


User Taking on the Iranian Regime’, The Guardian, 10 February 2010, €

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/10/oxfordgirl-ahma-
dinejad-twitter-iran, last accessed 21 February 2016.
€

18.╇Howard, Phillip and Muzammil Hussain (2013). Democracy’s Fourth Wave?


Digital Media and the Arab Spring, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
19.╇Morozov, Evgeny (2011). The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World,
London: Penguin, 11.
20.╇Ibid., 11.
21.╇Ibid., 17.
22.╇Tsui, Lokman (2015). ‘The Coming Colonization of Hong Kong
Cyberspace: Government Responses to the Use of New Technologies
by the Umbrella Movement’, Chinese Journal of Communication, 8(4),
1–9.
23.╇Olson, Parmy (2014). ‘The Largest Cyber Attack In History Has Been
Hitting Hong Kong Sites,’ Forbes, 20 November 2014, http://www.
€

248
notes pp. [168–171]
forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2014/11/20/the-largest-cyber-attack-
in-history-has-been-hitting-hong-kong-sites/#54353e8a3fc4, last acces�
sed 5 March 2016.
€

24.╇Han, Rongpin (2015). ‘Manufacturing Consent in Cyberspace: China’s


Fifty-cent Army’, Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 44(2), 105–34.
25.╇Kwok, Donny and Yimou Lee (2015). ‘Hong Kong Vetoes China-
backed Electoral Reform Proposal,’ Reuters, 18 June 2015, http:// €

www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-politics-idUSKBN0OY063
20150618, last accessed 5 March 2016.
€

26.╇South China Morning Post (2016). ‘Shots Fired and Bricks Thrown: Hong
Kong Tense After Mong Kok Mob Violence on First Day of Lunar New
Year’, 9 February 2016, http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/
€

law-crime/article/1910845/shots-fired-and-bricks-thrown-hong-kong-
tense-after-mong, last accessed 6 March 2016. €

27.╇South China Morning Post (2016). ‘Pro-democracy Candidate Alvin Yeung


Wins Hotly Contested Hong Kong By-election, While Localist Edward
Leung Has Credible Showing with 15pc of Vote’, 29 February 2016, €

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/1918450/
pro-democracy-candidate-alvin-yeung-wins-hotly-contested, last acces�
sed 5 March 2016.
€

28.╇Strom, Stephanie (2012). ‘Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery


Worldwide’, The New York Times, 6 March 2012, http://www.nytimes.
€

com/2012/03/07/business/web-sites-shine-light-on-petty-bribery-
worldwide.html?_r=0, last accessed 8 March 2016. €

29.╇Campion, Mukti Jain (2011). ‘Bribery in India: A Website for


Whistleblowers’, BBC News, 6 June 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/
€

news/world-south-asia-13616123, last accessed 4 April 2016. €

30.╇Bharadwaj, K.V. Aditya (2015). ‘Karnataka Lokayukta Quits to Avoid


€

Removal’, The Hindu, 9 December 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/


€

news/national/karnataka/y-bhaskar-rao-resigns-as-lokayukta/arti-
cle7961608.ece, last accessed 4 April 2016.
€

31.╇Diamond, Larry (2014). ‘Chasing Away the Democracy Blues’, Foreign


Policy, 24 October 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/10/24/chas-
€

ing-away-the-democracy-blues/, last accessed 7 March 2016. €

32.╇Onigbinde, Oluseun (2014). ‘The Nigerian Budget: Using Creative


Technology to Intersect Civic Engagement and Institutional Reform’,
Field Actions Science Reports, The Journal of Field Actions, Special Issue 11.
33.╇Young, Andrew and Stefaan Verhulst (2016). ‘Mexico’s Mejora Tu
Escuela: Empowering Citizens to Make Data-Driven Decisions About
Education’, GovLab, January 2016, http://odimpact.org/case-mexicos-
mejora-tu-escuela.html, last accessed 4 April 2016. €

34.╇Guy, Gillian (2016). ‘When Feedback is Easier, Services are Better’,

249
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Public Finance, 14 March 2016, http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/opin-
€

ion/2016/03/when-feedback-easier-services-are-better, last accessed


4 April 2016.
€

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36.╇Beber, Bernd and Alexandra Scacco (2012). ‘What the Numbers Say:
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37.╇See Keeter, Scott (2006). ‘The Impact of Cell Phone Noncoverage Bias
on Polling in the 2004 Presidential Election’, Public Opinion Quarterly,
70(1), 88–98.
38.╇Named after the African-American politician and former Los Angeles
mayor Tom Bradley, who was widely tipped in polls to win the California
governor’s race easily, but then lost because voters had overstated their
intention to back him, to avoid being seen as racist.
39.╇Stout, Christopher and Reuben Kline (2008). ‘Ashamed Not to Vote
for an African-American; Ashamed to Vote for a Woman: An Analysis
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12.╇CITY ON A SWAMP
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3.╇Rohrschneider, Robert (2002). ‘The Democracy Deficit and Mass
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€

5.╇The New York Times, ‘The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years’, 11 November
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6.╇Ballotpedia (n.d.). ‘Margin of Victory Analysis for the 2014 CongressÂ�


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7.╇Pearson, Rick (2011). ‘Federal Court Upholds Illinois Congressional


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250
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8.╇Stacking involves diluting a rival demographic group by stacking the
district with more of your supporters; cracking means breaking up a
rival demographic group so that they are a minority in several dis-
tricts rather than a majority in any district; packing involves cutting
losses by jamming a rival demographic group into a single district in
the hopes that they will not influence any surrounding districts.
9.╇McGhee, Eric (2014). ‘Measuring Partisan Bias in Single-Member
District Electoral Systems’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 39(1), 55–85.
10.╇Wang, Sam (2013). ‘The Great Gerrymander of 2012’, The New York
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€

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11.╇Dube, Brian and Peter Makaye (2013). ‘How ZANU-PF “Won” the
2013 Harmonized Elections in Zimbabwe’, International Journal of
Humanities and Social Science Invention, 2(10), 33–9.
12.╇Ballotpedia (n.d.).
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Cockroaches and the Donald’, TIME, 8 January 2013, http://news-
€

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14.╇Blake, Aaron (2013). ‘Majority Say Shutdown Did “Serious Damage”


to U.S. Image in World’, The Washington Post, 22 October 2013,
€ €

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16.╇‘The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election’, The New York
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€

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17.╇From 2009 to 2014, the 200 most politically active companies spent
a combined $5.8 billion in lobbying efforts.
18.╇
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€

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4 April 2016.
€

21.╇See Marois, Michael (2013). ‘California’s Redistricting Shake-Up


Shakes Out Politicians’, 23 March 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/
€

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€

22.╇Chasmar, Jessica (2016). ‘Donald Trump: I Consult Myself on Foreign


Policy, “Because I have a Very Good Brain’”, The Washington Times,
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€

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23.╇Carothers, Thomas (2016). ‘Look Homeward, Democracy Promoter’,


27 January 2016, Foreign Policy, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/
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24.╇Ibid.
25.╇See The Electoral Integrity Project, http://www.electoralintegritypro-
ject.com, last accessed 29 July 2016.
€

26.╇Van de Walle, Nicolas (2002). ‘Africa’s Range of Regimes’, Journal of


Democracy, 13(2), 66–80.
27.╇At the time of my visit in 2012, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state
and it was not yet known whether she would stand for the presidency
again.

13.╇THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON


1.╇World Bank (n.d.). ‘GDP at Market Prices (Current US$)’, World
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2.╇Kramer, Andrew (2012). ‘Peeking Through Years, and the Wall, at


Oswald’, The New York Times, 2 November 2012, http://www.nytimes.
€

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3.╇See: Bennett, Brian (2012). The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus Under
Lukashenko, London: Hurst & Co.
4.╇Ibid.
5.╇Beichelt, Timm (2004). ‘Autocracy and Democracy in Belarus, Russia
and Ukraine, Democratization, 11(5), 113–32.
6.╇See ibid. and Bennett (2012).

252
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€

2016.
10.╇Of course, Western governments are more likely to impose sanctions
on a country seen as a lost cause firmly in the orbit of a geopolitical
enemy than on countries that could plausibly cozy back up to the
West. Generally speaking, sanctions are most easily applied to coun-
tries that are geopolitically irrelevant or that directly antagonize the
geopolitical goals of Western governments.
11.╇Way, Lucan (2016). ‘Weaknesses of Autocracy Promotion’, Journal of
Democracy, 27(1), 64–75.
12.╇See McCargo, Duncan (2015). ‘Thailand in 2014: The Trouble with
Magic Swords’, Southeast Asian Affairs, 2015(1), 335–58 and ChachavalÂ�
pongpun, Pavin (2014). Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political DevelopÂ�
ment Since Thaksin’s Downfall, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian
Studies.
13.╇The 2008 change of power is sometimes called a ‘judicial coup’. See
Chen, Pei-Hsiu (2014). ‘The Vulnerability of Thai Democracy: Coups
d’état and Political Changes in Modern Thailand’. In Liamputtong,
Pranee, ed. (2014). Contemporary Socio-Cultural and Political Perspectives
in Thailand, 185–207. Amsterdam: Springer.
14.╇See Pongsudhirak, Thitinan (2016). ‘An Unaligned Alliance: Thailand/
US Relations in the Early 21st Century’, Asian Politics & Policy, 8(1),
63–74.
15.╇Rappa, A. L. (2015). ‘Autochthonous Politics and Capitalist DevelopÂ�
€ €

ment in Thailand.’ Journal of Political Sciences and Public Affairs, 3(176),


232–61.
16.╇Bunbongkarn, Suchit (2015). ‘What Went Wrong with the Thai DemoÂ�
cracy?’, Southeast Asian Affairs, 2015(1), 359–68.
17.╇See McCargo, Duncan (2015). ‘Peopling Thailand’s 2015 Draft ConstiÂ�
tution,’ Contemporary Southeast Asia, 37(3), 329–54.
18.╇BBC News (2010). ‘Verdict on Thaksin Billions Unlikely to Heal Divide’,
26 February 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8539305.
€

stm, last accessed 4 April 2016.


€

253
pp. [200–206] Notes
19.╇Pongsudhirak (2016).
20.╇Joehnk, Tom Felix and Ilya Garger (2016). ‘How America Can Put
Thailand Back on Track,’ The New York Times, 22 March 2016, http://
€

www.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/opinion/how-america-can-put-thai-
land-back-on-track.html, last accessed 24 March 2016.
€

21.╇Chambers, Paul (2004). ‘US-Thai Relations After 9/11: a New Era in


Cooperation?’ Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and
Strategic Affairs, 26(3), 460–79.
22.╇McCargo, Duncan (2006). ‘Thaksin and the Resurgence of Violence
in the Thai South: Network Monarchy Strikes Back?’ Critical Asian
Studies, 38(1), 39–71.
23.╇Hodal, Kate (2014). ‘Thailand Denies it Ran Secret Prison for CIA or
Allowed Torture on its Territory’, The Guardian, 12 December 2014, €

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/12/thailand-denies-
secret-prison-torture-senate-cia, last accessed 19 March 2016. €

24.╇
BBC News (2003). ‘Foreign Troops in Iraq’, 29 November 2003, €

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3267451.stm, last accessed


2 April 2016.
€

25.╇
Henderson, Barney (2010). ‘Thai Court Seizes £1bn of Thaksin
Shinawatra’s Assets’, The Telegraph, 26 February 2010, http://www.
€

telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/thailand/7326177/Thai-court-
seizes-1bn-of-Thaksin-Shinawatras-assets.html, last accessed 24 March €

2016.
26.╇Human Rights Watch (2011). ‘Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010
Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown’, 3 May 2011, €

https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/05/03/descent-chaos/thailands-
2010-red-shirt-protests-and-government-crackdown, last accessed
29 March 2016.
€

27.╇US Department of State (2010). ‘Statement: Situation in Thailand’,


Daily Press Briefing, 19 May 2010, http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/
€

051910statement_thailand.html, last accessed 2 April 2016.€

28.╇Crispin, Shawn (2016). ‘China-Thailand Rail Project Gets Untracked’,


The Diplomat, 1 April 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/04/china-
€

thailand-railway-project-gets-untracked/, last accessed 2 April 2016. €

29.╇Tull, Dennis (2006). ‘China’s Engagement in Africa: Scope, Significance


and Consequences’, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 44(3), 459–
79.
30.╇World Bank (n.d.). ‘GDP Growth (Annual %)’, World Development
Indicators, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.
ZG?page=1, last accessed 2 April 2016.
€

31.╇Kurlantzick, Joshua (2013). ‘Why the “China Model” Isn’t Going


Away’, The Atlantic, 21 March 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/
€

254
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32.╇Zavadski, Katie (2015). ‘Putin’s Propaganda TV Lies About Its PopuÂ�


larity’, The Daily Beast, 17 September 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.
€

com/articles/2015/09/17/putin-s-propaganda-tv-lies-about-ratings.
html, last accessed 26 March 2016.
€

33.╇Ibid.
34.╇RT America (2014). ‘Accused: The US Manufactured Ebola’, broadcast
on 25 September 2014, video available from: https://www.youtube.
€

com/watch?v=9VCu04-FM8s, last accessed 29 July 2016. €

35.╇The Blueberry Hill video had just under six million views in April
2016; see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IV4IjHz2yIo, last acces�
sed 29 July 2016.
€

36.╇Porter, Tom (2016). ‘Russia: Putin’s State TV Incited Racial Hatred


After ‘Fake’ Report of Girl’s Rape by Refugees,’ International Business
Times, 20 January 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/russia-putins-state-
€

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37.╇Gitter, David (2016). ‘The 2016 Chinese New Year Gala: a Propaganda
Disaster’, The Diplomat, 9 February 2016, http://thediplomat.com/
€

2016/02/the-2016-chinese-new-year-gala-a-propaganda-disaster/, last
accessed 18 March 2016.
€

38.╇Walker, Christopher (2016). ‘The Hijacking of Soft Power’, Journal of


Democracy 27(1), 49–63.
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Around the World’, http://english.hanban.org/, last accessed 27 March €

2016.
40.╇Brady, Anne-Marie (2015). ‘China’s Foreign Propaganda Machine’,
Journal of Democracy, 26(4), 51–9.
41.╇Ibid., 52.
42.╇See Dobson, William (2012). The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the
Global Battle for Democracy, New York: Random House.
43.╇Pomerantsev, Peter and Michael Weiss (2014). ‘The Menace of
Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and
Money’, The Interpreter, http://www.interpretermag.com/wp-content/
uploads/2014/11/The_Menace_of_Unreality_Final.pdf, last accessed
20 March 2016.
€

44.╇For those who claim politics is boring, this is the second mention of
zombies in the book, something I would have found unlikely when I
started writing about democracy.
45.╇Cooley, Alexander (2015). ‘Countering Democratic Norms’, Journal
of Democracy, 26(3), 49–63.

255
pp. [217–220] Notes
CONCLUSION: THE RESURGENCE OF DEMOCRACY
1.╇Zakaria, Fareed (2007). The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home
and Abroad (Revised Edition), New York: WW Norton & company.
2.╇See Przeworski, Adam and Fernando Limongi (1997). ‘Modernization:
Theories and Facts’, World Politics, 49(2), 155–83.
3.╇Kagan, Robert (2003). ‘The Ungreat Washed’, New Republic, 7 July €

2003, https://newrepublic.com/article/90784/fareed-zakaria-democ-
racy, last accessed 25 March 2016.
€

4.╇Center for Systemic Peace (n.d.). ‘The Polity Project: About Polity’,
http://www.systemicpeace.org/polityproject.html, last accessed 29 July €

2016.

256
INDEX

Abbas, Mahmoud, 100 Air Force One, 58


Abbottabad, Pakistan, 53 Ajax, 22, 38, 230
Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, King of Alert, Nunavut, 231
Saudi Arabia, 172 Alfonso IX, King of Léon, 30–1
Abdullah II, King of Jordan, 18, Algeria, 155
214 Aliyev, Ilham, 82–5
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 19, 105, Allende, Salvador, 45–7
106–7 amplification effect, 57
Abraham, 124 Anaconda Copper, 48
Achilles, 22, 230 Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, 38
Afghanistan, 2, 5, 20, 49, 54, 67, Angola, 112–13
69, 70, 78, 98, 136–8, 213 Antananarivo, Madagascar, 7, 85,
1982 arrival of Bin Laden, 78 86
2001 US-led invasion, 70, 71, Apple, 20, 83, 135–6, 145, 151
84, 98 Arab Spring (2011), 2, 10, 12–16,
2009 presidential election, 70–1 18, 65, 94, 124–6, 130, 132–3,
2014 presidential election, 71; 163, 168, 218
power-sharing agreement, Argentina, 34–5, 149, 156
75–6; USAID announces Aristide, Jean-Bertrand, 114–15,
women’s empowerment proj- 117
ect, 136–8, 145 Aristogeiton, 28
Afifi, Omar, 163–4, 247 Aristophanes, 29
African-Americans, 176, 207, 250 Aristotle, 29
Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud, 168 Armenia, 59–60, 209
Ahmed, Mohammed, 123–4, 126, Armitage, Richard, 53
130, 224 Asghabat, Turkmenistan, 25
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency Ashkelon, Israel, 102
syndrome), 116, 207 Asian financial crisis (1997), 196

257
INDEX
al-Assad, Bashar, 120 oned for organizing protest,
AT&T, 135 61–2, 222
Athena, 22 2015 economic crisis, 64;
Athens, 20, 27–30, 31, 156 release of political prisoners,
Australia, 29–30, 112, 153, 156 65, 222; presidential election,
Azerbaijan, 20, 82–5, 90, 209, 64–5; pressured by Russia to
211, 238 host military base, 65, 195
2016 EU suspends sanctions, 65,
Ba’ath party, 63, 72, 77, 124, 128 67, 195
Badawi, Raif, 16 Belarus Democracy Act (2004),
Baghdad, Iraq, 72 63, 194
Bahrain, 59, 155, 209, 225 Belgian Congo (1908–60), 42
Bangkok, Thailand, 198, 200, 202, Belgium, 43–4, 90, 220
203, 223 Ben Ali, Zine El Abidine, 13,
Bangladesh, 106 123–33, 155
Bardo Museum attack (2015), 131 benign dictatorship, 215, 220
Barraket Essahel affair (1991), 123, Benin, 23, 27, 156
126, 224 Berlin Wall, 35, 201
Basra, Iraq, 72, 73 Bermudo II “the Gouty”, King of
beheadings, 11, 12, 16, 19 Léon, 30, 231
Beijing Consensus, 206–7 Bever, James, 101
Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of
Belarus, 3, 19, 60–7, 154, 192–5,
Thailand, 165
205–6, 212, 218, 222
Biamby, Philippe, 117
1991 dissolution of Soviet
Bible, 179
Union; independence, 192–3 Big Brother, 180
1994 presidential election; Bin Laden, Osama, 18, 50, 52–3,
Lukashenko comes to power, 78
193–4 Binti Salan Mustapa, Sumiati, 12
1996 Commonwealth with Rus- Biya, Paul, 121
sia established, 194 Black Hawk Down incident (1993),
2002 proposal for re-integration 116
with Russia, 194 Black Sea Economic Cooperation
2004 US passes Belarus Democ- (BSEC), 211
racy Act, 63, 194; referen- blackballing, 29
dum on Lukashenko’s third Blagoy, Ivan, 208
term; Western sanctions, 63 Blair, Anthony “Tony”, 6, 92
2006 presidential election, 61; Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino), 207
EU asset ban on Lukashenko, Boehner, John, 181
63 Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen), 121
2010 presidential election, Boko Haram, 177
61–2, 65; Statkevich impris- Bolivia, 143, 154

258
INDEX
Bolšteins, Ludvigs, 147 Caspian Sea, 84
Bono (Paul Hewson), 92 Castro, Fidel, 49
Boston University, 111 Castro, Raul, 49
Botswana, 149 caudillos, 33
Bourguiba, Habib, 126 Cédras, Raoul, 115–20
BP (British Petroleum), 38 censorship, 161–3, 165
Bradley effect, 176, 250 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
Brazil, 56, 149, 152, 156 20, 39–49, 59, 98, 201, 207,
Bremer, Lewis Paul, 72 208
Brexit, 1 Chan-ocha, Prayuth, 164, 203
bribery, 170–1 Charles I, King of England,
British Broadcasting Corporation Scotland and Ireland, 31
(BBC), 94 Chemonics, 58, 138
Brunei, 155, 229 Chicago, Illinois, 182
bubonic plague, 6 Chile, 27, 36, 38, 45–8, 153, 220,
BudgIT, 171 225
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 34 Chiluba, Frederick, 190
Bulgaria, 149 China, 4, 23–7, 105–6, 109, 168–
Burkina Faso, 177–8 70, 176, 190, 191–2, 196–212,
Burundi, 95 215–16, 218, 221, 223, 229
Bush, George Herbert Walker, 115, 1958 launch of Great Leap For-
121, 190 ward, 24
Bush, George Walker, 54–7, 63, 1990 Deng Xiaoping’s “24-Char-
69, 99, 100, 101, 190, 194, 201 acter Strategy”, 206
Bush, Sarah, 59 1992 propaganda-industry tax
introduced, 209
Cairo, Egypt, 9–10, 13, 163–4, 2003 SARS outbreak, 25–6
218 2013 endorsement of Azerbaijani
California, United States, 26, 188, election, 211; monitoring of
209 Malagasy election, 211
Cambodia, 59 2014 Umbrella Movement pro-
Cameroon, 121 tests in Hong Kong, 168–9,
Canada, 94, 112, 143, 153, 155, 176, 221; rail deal with
156, 230–1 Thailand, 203
Caravana de la Muerte, 47 2016 Lunar New Year celebra-
Carnegie Endowment for tions, 208; Mong Kok riots,
International Peace, 52, 73 169
Carothers, Thomas, 52, 73, 141, China Central Television (CCTV),
144, 189 207–9
Carter Center, 89, 238 Chow, Holden, 169
Carter, James Earl “Jimmy”, 116, Christianity, 105, 179
120, 238 Churchill, Winston, 22, 190, 215

259
INDEX
Ciftci, Bilgin, 20, 161–3, 165, 176 170–1, 197, 200, 201, 209, 210,
citizen journalism, 135 219
citizen participation, 27 Côte d’Ivoire, 3, 19, 104–10, 111,
Citizens United v. Federal Election 119
Commission, 185, 188 2000 presidential election, 104
City on a Hill, 10, 35, 179, 188, 2002 outbreak of civil war, 104
189 2010 presidential election,
Cleisthenes, 28 104–5; outbreak of violence,
climate change, 209 105–6, 119; Gbabgbo offered
Clinton, Hillary, 5–6, 112, 178, asylum in the US, 111
190 2011 UN/French intervention,
Clinton, William “Bill”, 52, 92, 106, 108–10; Gbabgbo extra-
102, 112, 115–16, 184, 190 dited to ICC, 106, 109, 119
Cobra Gold, 201 2015 presidential election, 110
Cold War, 1, 20, 35–6, 37–50, 55, Council of Europe, 84
66, 75, 81, 93, 149, 150, 200–1, Council of Five Hundred, 29
204, 221 counterfeit democracies, 3, 6–9,
Colombia, 27, 33, 171, 189 20, 23, 33–4, 52, 70, 73, 79,
Commonwealth of Independent 82–90, 158–9, 173, 175, 204,
States Observation Mission (CIS-
210, 216–17, 220, 223
EMO), 211
Crimea, 64, 65
Communist Party
crisis of democracy, 180
of China, 208
of Moldova, 195 Critias, 29
of Thailand, 199 Croatia, 75
Community College of Denver, Cuba, 45, 49–50, 176
209 curse of low expectations, see
Confucius Institutes, 209 Madagascar Effect
Congo, 20, 36, 38, 42–4, 47, 48,
95, 121 Daily Show, The, 53
Congress, US, 32, 33, 35, 184, 194 Dark Ages, 30, 219
Connecticut Compromise, 32–3 Dayton, Mark, 186–7
constitutions, 31–2, 150–1, 190, DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-
197 Service), 168
Contadora Island, Panama, 117 death squads, 47, 114, 117
COPPPAL (Conferencia Delian League, 29
Permanente de Partidos Políticos democracy deficit, 180
de América Latina y el Caribe), democracy promotion industry,
211 58–60, 138
Corner House, Riga, 147–8, 160, democracy wars, 67, 69–79, 220
225 Democratic Party, 35, 58, 84, 92,
corruption, 73, 82, 99, 107, 139, 124, 142, 182–8

260
INDEX
Democratic Republic of the 2008 Afifi exiled to US, 163
Congo, see Congo 2009 Clinton describes
demos, 27, 28 Mubaraks as ‘friends of my
Deng Xiaoping, 206 family’, 6; Obama’s Cairo
Denmark, 77, 220 speech, 9–10, 218
Denver, Colorado, 209 2011 Tahrir Square protests be-
Department for International gin, 10, 13, 163–4; Mubarak
Development (DFID), 59 ousted, 13, 164
Department of Defense, 115 2012 Morsi elected president,
Detention Site Green, Udon Thani, 14; anti-Morsi demonstra-
201 tions begin, 164, 247
Development Alternatives Inc., 138 2013 coup d’état; el-Sisi comes
Development Assistance to power, 14–16, 88, 164;
Committee (DAC), 58 Saudi Arabia announces aid
Devlin, Larry, 43 package, 15
Diamond, Larry, 171 Eid al-Kabir, 124
Dictator’s Learning Curve, The Eisenhower, Dwight David, 38, 43
(Dobson), 210 elections
digital communications, 49, 125, campaign finance, 185–8, 238
161–75, 207, 208, 221, 223 foreign aid/intervention,
Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional 97–110, 143
(DINA), 48 “free and fair”, 8, 14, 88–90,
direct democracy, 28–9 102, 159, 193
disabled rights, 141, 144 gerrymandering, 180–5, 188,
disinformation, 207–8 251
Dobson, Will, 210 grade inflation, 88–9, 158, 159
“Don’t Forget Me” (GooGoosha), inclusivity, 24, 129–31, 221
140 observation/monitoring, 8,
Dubai, 82 65, 81, 83–4, 88–90, 102,
Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, 105 158–9, 173–4, 178, 211, 223
Dulles, Alan, 41 polling, 174–6
Durack, Western Australia, 29–30 respect for, 5, 37–48
Duvalier, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc”, rigging of, 22–3, 34, 61, 63–4,
114 70–1, 83–5, 87, 112, 158–9,
166, 210–11
Ebola, 184 short-term thinking, 26, 54, 56
echo chamber effect, 165 turnout, 180, 184
Egypt, 6, 9–10, 13–16, 27, 88, Electoral Integrity Project, 189,
155, 163–4, 225 238
1987 US aid payments begin, 14 Elizabethville, Congo, 43
2001 EU Association Agree- “emerging democracy”, 88
ment, 155 Emory University, 136

261
INDEX
“End of History”, 163, 214 holds membership referen-
English Civil War (1642–51), 31 dum, 1
Ennahda party, 126–8 Eurozone crisis, 180, 190
Equatorial Guinea, 6, 11, 121, 173,
220 Facebook, 125, 161–3, 165, 168,
Erdoggan, Recep Tayyip, 20, 161–3,
€
172, 223
176 Falls Church, Virginia, 163
Eritrea, 11, 24 famine, 24
Estonia, 17, 149, 151 Fatah, 99–102
Ethiopia, 27 Fats Domino, 207
Eton College, Berkshire, 202 Ferjani, Said, 125–33, 142, 156,
European Commission, 150 221, 224
European Parliament, 84, 180 Fidesz Party, 150–2
European Partnership for financial crisis (2008–9), 185, 206
Democracy (EPD), 58 FixMyStreet, 171
European Union (EU), 2, 3, 56, Florida, United States, 117
61–3, 65–7, 84, 90, 100, 143, Forces Nouvelles, 106
145, 148–56, 160, 180, 195, Ford, Gerald, 45
214, 223, 225, 247 Foreign Affairs, 53
foreign aid, 14–15, 47, 49, 52, 57,
1999 European Parliament elec-
89, 90, 92, 93, 95, 100–1
tions, 180
Fourteen Points (1918), 35
2004 Eastern Bloc countries ac-
France, 2, 33, 44, 55–6, 58, 72,
cede to Union, 148–9 89, 106, 108–10, 115, 129, 214,
2005 intervention in Palestinian 225
election campaign, 100 “free and fair”, 8, 14, 88–90, 102,
2006 asset ban on Lukashenko 159, 193
government, 63 free speech, 94, 103, 161–3, 165,
2008 aid given for Ghanaian 188
election, 143 free trade zones, 152–60
2009 Eurozone crisis begins, Freedom House, 139, 140, 189
180, 190 Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 189
2013 endorsement of Azerbaijani Front Populaire Ivorien, 105
election, 84; endorsement of FSB (Federal’naya sluzhba bezopas-
Malagasy election, 90 nosti), 61
2014 Riga designated European Fukuyama, Francis, 74, 163, 214
Capital of Culture, 148, 225 fungibilty, 95
2015 Riga summit; Juncker slaps
Orbán, 150 Gaddafi, Muammar, 24, 76–9, 102,
2016 Belarus sanctions suspend- 113, 129
ed, 65, 67, 195; Zimbabwe Gambia, The, 121
sanctions suspended, 247; UK Gandhi, Jennifer, 136

262
INDEX
Gaza, Palestine, 100–1, 240–1 Hague, William, 77
Gbabgbo, Laurent, 105–10, 111, Haiti, 114–21
119 Hamas, 99–104, 241
General Motors, 48 Harmodius, 28
Geneva Convention, 177 Harvard University, 45
Geneva, Switzerland, 140 health care, 184–5
George III, King of the United Henry IV “the Impotent”, King of
Kingdom, 31 Castile and Léon, 30, 231
Georgia, 143 Herodotus, 29
Geraldton, Western Australia, 30 Higiro, Robert, 94
Germany, 17, 23, 35, 44, 56, 58, Hipparchus, 28
74–5, 103–4, 147–8, 165, 189, Hitler, Adolf, 23, 103–4, 165
201, 204, 208, 213, 223 HIV (human immunodeficiency
Gerry, Elbridge, 181–2 virus), 116, 207
gerrymandering, 180–5, 188, 251 Hobart, Tasmania, 153
Ghana, 17, 143, 144, 171 homosexuality, 12, 20
Ghani, Rula, 137 Hong Kong, 168–70, 176, 221
globalization, 153 House of Representatives, 33, 181
Globe & Mail, 94 human rights, 10, 11, 52, 54, 57,
golden handcuffs, 111, 119–21, 64, 113, 118, 139, 209, 213
154 Humphrey, Hubert, 21
golden parachutes, 19, 116–21 Hungary, 150–2, 160, 171
Gollum, 20, 161–3, 165, 176 Hussein, Saddam, 63, 72, 73, 79,
Google, 164 124, 156–7
GooGoosha (Gulnara Karimova),
140, 145 I Paid a Bribe, 170–1
Government Organized Non- Ibragimbekov, Rustam, 82
Governmental Organizations Iceland, 88
(GONGOs), 209–10, 212 Iglesias, Julio, 140
grade inflation, 88, 99, 158, 159 “illiberal democracy”, 227
Great Leap Forward (1958–61), 24 Illinois, United States, 182–3
Greece, 20, 21, 22, 27–30, 31, Iloniaina, Alain, 222–3
156, 230 imihigo program, 93
Green Revolution (2009), 135–6, Immunization of the Revolution,
166–8 127
gridlock, 184–5, 187 inclusion, 24, 129